Project: Mapping Lived Religion: Medieval cults of saints in Sweden and Finland

This five-year project aims to build a comprehensive, online database providing open-access to data (both textual and material) from several cultural heritage collections and previous research results, as well as material digitalized in collaboration with the Swedish National Historical Museums and the Swedish National Heritage Board.

The project will create interactive, digital maps that allow users to search for and analyse information on churches, parishes and cult-sites chronologically, geographically and by saint, enabling new, in-depth investigations into the culture of medieval and early modern Scandinavia. Furthermore, the project will study the cults of saints as social phenomena and investigate their place in medieval “lived religion”. Interdisciplinary research will also be facilitated with the possibility of examining texts and objects from new perspectives.

Caption: Altarpiece from Husaby (detail) with statues of St Lawrence, St Mary Magdalene and St Sigfrid. Photo: Lennart Karlsson, National Historical Museums (Sweden).

About the project

Project manager
Dr. Sara Ellis Nilsson, Linnaeus University

Project members

Professor Lena Liepe, Linnaeus University
Associate Professor Anders Fröjmark, Linnaeus University
Dr. Terese Zachrisson, University of Gothenburg
Johan Åhlfeldt (Research Engineer), Centre for Digital Humanities, University of Gothenburg
Dr. Sofia Lahti, Linnéuniversitetet
MA Vilma Mättö, Linnéuniversitetet

Participating organisations
Linnaeus University
Center for Digital Humanities, University of Gothenburg
National Historical Museums (The Swedish History Museum)
The Swedish National Heritage Board


The Swedish Research Council, The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, and The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences


February 1, 2019–February 1, 2024


History, (Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

Follow us
Twitter: @MappingSaints

Mapping Saints, a digital, open-access research and educational resource, created by the project. The database contains source material related to the medieval cults of saints, which the project is mapping. The database is under construction.

More about the project

Why were saints instrumental in forming the mental and physical relationships medieval Scandinavians had with their surrounding environments? The answer to this question can be approached from number of angles. Saints were (and in some parts of the world still are) important links between heaven and earth, but they also affected the landscape, the calendar, and the perception of time itself. Saints set people in motion as pilgrims. Moreover, sources associated with saints provide a wealth of material to study daily life, social relationships, and values. In order to understand medieval society, we need an understanding of the ritual existence of medieval women and men, and of the cultic landscape surrounding them.

There are many reasons why more knowledge within this area is of immense importance. For instance, a greater understanding of past societies is essential in order to convey this aspect of History to future generations and in order to counteract the use of the medieval period by extremists. An increase in knowledge about history (especially the medieval period) is of importance even on the local level, where public interest in the period is steadily increasing. In an age with instant access to information, there is a need for easily accessible, reliable online-resources.

The project will create an open-access database, Mapping Saints, that will allow for improved, uncomplicated access to the relevant extant material. The database will contain data on many of the texts and objects related to the cults of saints which have been dated to between the 12th and early 18th centuries. The geographical scope encompasses the Swedish ecclesiastical province of Uppsala (medieval Sweden and Finland). The time period is from the province’s establishment in 1164 to the Uppsala Synod in 1593 which consolidated the Swedish Protestant Reformation. During this time, the area was firmly connected to the wider network of Latin Christendom.

The project will also map cults of saints within the same ecclesiastical province of Uppsala. It will be possible to create spatial and temporal visualizations of the spread of these saints’ cults, including how cults were expressed through, for example, narratives and objects. This will be achieved in part through the maps the project will create. The database will enable new ways of combining these different source-material categories (e.g. objects, texts, places, and buildings). The diverse sources comprise, among other things, church and altar dedications, church art, miracle stories, liturgies, and inventories. Thus, it will also facilitate research into the cults of saints as social phenomena and an important aspect of daily life: so-called “lived religion”. The compilations of these sources in a database will also allow for interdisciplinary, scholarly communication, as both written material and objects will be examined using new perspectives.

Data will be gathered partly from previously digitized cultural heritage collections, partly from archives and research literature that the project’s researchers will register in the database, and partly through the project’s collaboration with the Swedish National Historical Museums (SHM) and National Heritage Board (RAÄ). In the latter case, SHM and RAÄ will be digitizing parts of their own collections – related to the medieval cults of saints – that are not already available digitally. These newly digitized collections will also be made available as part of SHM and RAÄ’s own digital resources (searchable via e.g. K-SAMSÖK).

The project’s use of digital tools and online resources will also allow for crowdsourcing from external sources including researchers from project’s reference group and the interested public. Their contributions will take the form of data about objects and texts (researchers) and images (the public). Since the project also builds on previously digitized cultural heritage material and will link to it (using open-linked data where possible), the project has established a dialogue with the main cultural heritage institutions, for instance, the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet) and the National Library of Finland (Kansalliskirjasto), as well as the aforementioned SHM and RAÄ. In addition to the database and maps, the project’s results will be published on the project’s blog and in articles as well as an anthology.