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The Saint in the Woods: Semi-Domestic Shrines in Rural Sweden, c. 1500–1800

Journal article
Authors Terese Zachrisson
Published in Religions
Volume 10
Issue 6
Pages 1-15
ISSN 2077-1444
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Pages 1-15
Language en
Keywords sacred space; materiality; popular piety; lived religion; Lutheranism
Subject categories History


In the seventeenth century, a common saying in parts of rural Sweden when discussing someone lacking in piety was that they went to neither church nor cross. This reflects the practice of placing shrines in the fields, along the roads and in the woods as a communal semi-domestic complement to official church space. In the remote woodland areas of Sweden, the distance between parish churches could be considerable, and many parishioners were not able to attend church on a regular, weekly basis. At these sites, parishioners could kneel and make their prayers as a complement to church service. However, they could also be used as points of contact in communicating domestic issues with the divine, with votives being left at the shrines by those hoping for deliverance from disease and difficult childbirths. In the post-reformation period, such sites were regarded with suspicion by the higher ranks of the clergy, and were often considered “idolatrous” and “superstitious”. Yet, they seem to have filled an important religious need among their laity that made it possible to interact with the divine on sites bordering the domestic and the public space of the church.

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