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York: Archbishop explores Christian links at JORVIK Viking Centre

Archbishop Sentamu (rt) and David Jennings with stained-glass window

Archbishop Sentamu (rt) and David Jennings with stained-glass window

Dr John Sentamu, Anglican Archbishop of York, enjoyed a preview tour of JORVIK Viking Centre today (Monday 13 March) including reviewing how Christianity makes an appearance in the Viking displays for the first time. The Archbishop was invited along by , chief executive of York Archaeological Trust. He enjoyed a tour of the attraction - which is nearing completion following a £4.2 million rebuild - ahead of its opening on 8 April 2017.

"An important figure in York's history, St Wulfstan, played a key role in working with the Viking population of York and was a key influencer on the Christian community nationally. With the new displays at JORVIK Viking Centre incorporating Christian iconography and characters for the first time, it seems very appropriate that the current Archbishop of York join us to see how we will be doing this, from having a priest as part of the recreation of the Viking city, to stained glass panels made by York Glaziers Trust and a replica of the Middleton Cross carved by the York Minster Stoneyard," comments director of attractions, Sarah Maltby, who has overseen the work to re-open JORVIK Viking Centre following the floods of December 2015.

The new displays within JORVIK will show how Christianity and traditional Norse pagan beliefs overlapped in Viking-age York, with archaeological evidence showing how the two religions co-existed. "The Middleton Cross is an ancient carved stone cross which sits in St Andrew's Church in Middleton, Ryedale showing a Viking warrior in full armour alongside a monstrous beast. The cross shape reflects Christian iconography, and this was probably commissioned by wealthy locals to commemorate one of their dead - a unique item that illustrates this co-existence of Christian and Norse religions," explains Sarah. "We've worked in partnership with the church to reimagine what it would have looked like when it was first crafted."

The cross on display in the new galleries at JORVIK was carved by masons in York Minster's stone yard using stone taken from the same source as the original. In the gallery, visitors will see not only the intricate design, but also flecks of glittering quartz within the stone - something no longer visible on the original.

The stained glass window is inspired by a Viking-age illustration showing a series of longships, complete with warriors armed with swords, spears and shields, disembarking their ships. The window, which takes pride of place at the entrance to the galleries, was created using the same type of glass, paint and techniques that feature in York Minster's newly restored Great East Window, and was undertaken by York Glaziers' Trust in its Deangate studio.

Dr Sentamu commented: "What a fantastic exhibition! The Vikings are perhaps better known for their attacks on churches and abbeys, so it is wonderful to see these early examples of Christianity within the Viking-age city - part of the rich tapestry of history that shaped the city you see today. I look forward to joining the crowds of visitors when all of the work is complete to see the finished attraction in all its glory."

Visitors will be able to see the displays admired by the Archbishop from 8 April, when JORVIK Viking Centre re-opens following its 16 month closure. "We have worked hard to keep the story of the Vikings alive in York whilst work has been on-going, but it will feel wonderful to bring all of our artefacts home over the next three weeks ready for them to be revealed in this wonderfully redesigned setting at the start of the school Easter break," adds David Jennings.

Tickets for JORVIK Viking Centre can be prebooked now online at www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk. Visitors will still be able to buy tickets on the door. A programme of entertainment and activities has been planned for the opening weekend to keep visitors entertained whilst they wait to experience the new attraction.

Christianity had gained a foothold in England after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in AD337. The arrival of the Vikings in AD866 would have introduced the old Norse pagan religions, but as the Vikings settled and mingled with the native people, the two religions would have been present in this new blended society.

Christianity was also growing in the Norse countries, with Harald Bluetooth converting to Christianity in AD965 - just five years after the timeline recreated in the new JORVIK displays - probably as a political measure to stop the Holy Roman Empire to the south from invading.

Evidence of this transition between religions - and the co-existence of both faiths - is not only found in the Middleton Cross, but also in coinage from the era recovered during the Coppergate dig, which follow the Christian tradition rather than the Norse preference of ingots. Examples of coins issued in the name of St Peter but featuring Thor's hammer are a perfect example, and will also be on display within the new galleries at JORVIK Viking Centre.