Post-classical history

Rügen

A large island in the southwestern Baltic Sea, separated from the mainland by a long strait (the Strelasund), which was subjected to Danish rule in the course of the crusades in the twelfth century.

Rügen was inhabited by a Wendish (Slavic) tribe known as the Rane or Rugians. They had an important trade settlement at Ralswiek; their princes lived at Garz; the fortress-temple of Arkona in the north was the site of Svantevit, the main pagan idol in the region.

In the ninth century, according to the chronicler Hel- mold of Bosau, monks from Corvey in Westphalia introduced Christianity and established an oratory on Rügen, consecrated to St. Vitus, the patron saint of Corvey. However, Christianity seems to have been eradicated during pagan uprisings in 983 and later. Rügen was the most important target of Danish raids against the Wends. It seems to have been first subjected to Danish rule during the reign of King Erik I Ejegod (1095-1103) and linked to the newly established archbishopric of Lund. This was why, when Bishop Otto of Bamberg targeted Rügen on his second mission among the Baltic Slavs (1127), he asked the Danish archbishop Asser for permission, which Asser was unwilling to grant.

The Danish kings seem to have lost control over the island by this time, but in 1136 Erik II Emune is reported to have conquered Arkona, reintroducing Christianity but letting the Rugians retain their idol Svantevit, which they continued to venerate. Another crusade, led by King Valdemar I, reached the island in 1168. Arkona was taken on St. Vitus’s Day (15 June), the statue of Svantevit was cut down and dragged through the town, and Bishop Absalon of Roskilde immediately began to establish a church organization. It has been suggested that Svantevit was actually the object of an independent Christian veneration of St. Vitus and that the image of the pagan idol, so vividly depicted by Helmold and Saxo Grammaticus, was created to justify the attack as a crusade. However, it is known that in 1201 Absalon left two cups taken from the idols of the Rugians to a niece in his testament, which indicates the existence of pagan veneration.

Valdemar I secured papal confirmation of the conquest and persuaded the pope to subordinate Rügen to the bishopric of Roskilde rather than the archbishopric of Lund. After 1168 the newly baptized Rugian princes were allowed to rule the island under Danish supremacy. The descendant of one of these, Vitslav, participated in a Danish crusade to Estonia in 1219, where he was instrumental in securing a Danish victory over the Estonians at Reval (mod. Tallinn, Estonia). In 1325 Rügen was subjected to the Pomeranian princes but continued to be linked to the bishopric of Roskilde.

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