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THE EYE OF THE BALTIC.
as it is wide-spreading, but in these passed away, and Visby, the ghost of few pages I have merely recorded some its former self, lies half concealed befirst impressions received in passing. hind its ancient walls, a medieval, wellPHIL ROBINSON. nigh forgotten relic.
Yet the Visby of to-day merits more attention than it obtains from visitors to Sweden and the Baltic.
Its once From Temple Bar. fabulous wealth has departed from it.
The housewives no longer, as in the THERE are places where the traveller old tradition, use golden spindles, nor is inclined to echo the words of Madame do the hogs eat from silver trouglis ; de Staël, “ Voyager, c'est un triste plai- while of the eighteen churches of whichi sir." Visby in Gotland is such a place. the town once boasted, seventeen lie in Its silent, grass-grown streets, and the irretrievable ruin, wrecked, it would blackened ruins of its once stately seem, rather by the ruthlessness of churches, suggest a mournful retrospect. man than by the ravages of time. Still We recall the days when, conspicuous Visby, even in ruins — we may say, among the towns of the Hanseatic indeed, because of its ruins and the asLeague, the busy city despatched its sociations that cling to them — is full ships to every European port, and wel- of interest. Its early prosperity was comed traders from all parts of the largely due to the convenient position commercial world. Visby must have of Gotland in the Baltic, midway beafforded a most picturesque scene dur-tween the Swedish and Russian coasts. ing the thirteenth century — the zenith Until the new routes by Genoa and of its prosperity. A strange medley of Venice and by the Cape of Good Hope different nationalities then congregated were established, most of the commerce in the narrow streets and found shelter with the East passed through Russia, in the quaint, staircase-gabled houses, and Visby as a place of call became so enriched with stained glass windows, prominent as to gain the name Queen carved doors, and frescoed walls of the Baltic, or the Eye of the Balglories long since departed. Truly a tic. Old chroniclers assert that even strange medley, which included Rus- Solomon in all his glory was poorer in sians, Germans, Dutch, and English, gold and silver and precious stones men from the far East and Scandina- than was this small city. vian neighbors, cloistered monks and Visby was one of the first to be enburly friars, nuns and sisters of differ- rolled among the Hanse towns, and ent religious orders, with here and took a leading part in the famous there a pilgrim in travel-stained cape, League. Its maritime code has served trimmed with shells from the shores of as a model for most of the European Palestine. And elbowing their way navigation laws. From the first the through this throng were also royster- “ eye” of the Baltic was mainly diing knights, who had, like Chaucer's rected to business. Its prosperity hero, “foughten for oure feith,” at-received royal recognition when Henry tended by smart pages bearing bows III. allowed the merchants of Gotland and swords. The citizens themselves the privilege of free trade as regarded we may picture clad in tight doublets purchase and traffic in England. The and breeches, short capes of Dutch enterprise of the traders enabled them clotl;, and caps trimmed with fur, with to secure a double profit. They betook long knives hanging from the lea iern hemselves, with other representatives belts. When to the tongues of many of the League, to London, and estabnations was added the clang of the lished, close to Thames Street, a house bells of eighteen churches tolling out called the Steelyard, which flourished for miss and prayer, the city must for upwards of three centuries. Meanhave l een a very Babel. The motley while the population increased rapidly crowd, with its busy din, has long since I in Visby, and the variety of religions
called for the crection of numerous | disastrously for the Gotlanders. An churches and religious buildings. Char- ancient stone cross, still in perfect itable guilds and hospitals were also preservation, commemorates the event, established. The monks after their with the following Latin inscription : wont helped to beautify the town by “ Anno domini MCCCLXI feria tertia planting walnut, chestnut, lime, and post Jacobi ante portas Wisby in man. mulberry trees, some of which still ibus danorum ceciderunt gutenses, bic thrive. But the chief charm of Visby sepulti, orate pro eis.” lies in its grey walls, which as a speci- The victorious Danes quickly overmen of ancient fortification are almost ran the island ; houses and churches unique. Following the inequalities of were pillaged, and huge beer vats, filled the ground from the sea at the south with gold and silver, were carried off. end, they run round the site of the But the rapacity of Waldemar was un. city until they again reach the shore. appeased until he had stripped the These walls were built at the cost of cathedral of its golden statues and the peasantry of Gotland in 1288 ; each other treasures, and added the sacred Ting or district being made responsible carbuncles of Visby to his spoils. by the authorities for a tower, square, These famous stones filled the rosaces octagonal, or round. Of these towers, of the church of St. Nicholas, remarkthirty-six, as well as three massive able even among the churches of Gotgateways, were raised, so that even if land for its lofty gables and long lancet the walls were scaled, the garrison windows. In the words of the chronmight defend themselves from the shel-icler of the times, the carbuncles ter of the towers. In some are narrow • lighted the night as the sun does the slits, through which molten lead and day," so that the church served as a boiling oil could be poured on the heads lighthouse for mariners.
It is even of the besiegers.
said that twenty-five men guarded the Many and various have been the treasure night and day, so great was vicissitudes of Visby, and they began its value. Undeterred by sentimental early in its history. The name itself considerations, Waldemar laid his imindicates a sacrificial village, and proved pious haud upon the sacred jewels, and terribly prophetic. In 1028 the city shipped them off with the remainder of was invaded by the Viking Warrior- his spoil to Denmark. III luck, howSaint Olaf, who appears to have con- ever, pursued the ship, and at Carlsö, verted the inhabitants by duress rather the rocky islet off the south coast, the than by persuasion, for he gave no vessel capsized and the precious freight quarter save to those who consented to was lost. To this day the seafaring receive baptism at his hands, and to folk of that port declare that on bright, pay a ransom of gold. Several civil calm days dazziing gleams of light scin. wars ensued, which were succeeded by tillate from the bottom of the occan intermittent disputes with Sweden and the reflection of the sacred stones. Norway. Ravages by fire destroyed Visby never recovered from the dire many of the churches and wellnigh effects of Waldemar's invasion. It relaid the whole place in ashes. Ulti- mained the prey of alternate Danish mately the Danes turned envious eyes and German governors, who oppressed upon their opulent neighbor, and from and plundered the country without them, in the year 1361, came the fatal scruple. In 1530 its desolation was blow to Visby's prosperity. Waldemar completed by the excesses that accomof Denmark, whose name is still used panied the Reformation.
The place by young Gotlanders as a bugbear in sank into slow but sure decay, recovertheir games, laid the town waste, and ing in some degree under the mild rule sacked its treasures. Just outside the of Sweden, to whom it has belonged, southern gateway is a pleasant grassy but with few interruptions, since the spot, hard by the sea, the scene of year 1645. the tremendous battle which ended so There
churches in Visby alone. Of these, the Reformers. The Church of St. Santa Maria, the cathedral, is the only Clemens at Visby was particularly menbuilding now in use for public worship. tioned. The other churches date from the “Oh, that we could return," cried eleventh century, but Santa Maria is of one of the holy fathers, “and release a later period. There is much that is the goose with its twenty-four goslings, interesting in the building and its im- all of purest gold, from its dark hidingmediate surroundings, but at the pres- place in the church wall !” ent time it runs the risk of being spoilt “But do you not think,” suggested by over-restoration. Of greater inter- the other, “that the cursed heretics est is the ruin of Helige Ands (Holy have already plucked our goose and let Ghost). Within the tower is an upper her brood fly abroad ? ” church with pointed arches springing “Not so," replied his companion ; from circular columns.
It is ap
" the treasure was too well concealed proached by a double staircase, and for a glimmer to be revealed ;” and he through an open archway a view is proceeded to describe the hiding-place obtained of the choir. The same fea- with a minuteness which left nothture may be observed in some of the ing to be desired. The journeyman's conventual churches of Italy, where mouth watered as he listened attennuns, concealed from view, took part in tively to every word. Why should not the services. Helige Ands, however, he himself find the treasure ? Workwas built in 1046, two centuries before ing his way to Dantzic, he passed the separation of monks and nuns was thence to Visby. St. Clemens had decreed. Possibly the lower church been laid waste by fire, but the walls may have been previously the temple of remained, and, under cover of night, another religion, that of Odin, for ex- he stole forth with the necessary tools ample, which was exclusively followed and unearthed the treasure trove. Rein Scandinavia in the tenth century. turning with all speed to Dantzic, he Another theory with a greater show of sold both goose and goslings, laying out probability, is that, as there was a hos- the proceeds in the purchase of stockpital attached to the church, the sick in-trade, for he now saw his way to may have occupied the upper portion becoming a master cobbler. He then. while the convalescents worshipped be- settled in Gotland, where he married low.
and prospered, eventually rising to the The people of Gotland retain many position of burgomaster — the Whitof their primitive characteristics, and tington of Visby. old customs are held very sacred. For St. Lars and St. Drotten (Holy Trinexample, the cross is still signed before ity), with their dark, square towers and the fire is lighted or the dough kneaded, round arches, stand side by side. They and the butcher will pluck hairs from are said to owe their existence to a the forehead of the beast and throw quarrel between the two sour-tempered them into the fire before he siaughters. daughters of a rich merchant. So emThe island affords a fertile field to the bittered became the discord of the sislover of traditions and legends, which ters that at length they were unable to are accepted by the natives with the worship in the same building. On the utmost credulity. Each ruined church father's death each built for herself a possesses a legend of some kind.
In temple of prayer — the one St. Lars, connection with the Romanesque build- the other St. Drotten. In these “sising of St. Clemens we read how a ter churches " the round and pointed young journeyman shoemaker, wan- arches are employed together, St. Lars dering through Italy in search of work, being built in the shape of a Greek chanced one day at a wayside tavern to cross with four massive pillars supportoverhear two monks relating stories of ing the central roof. It is a striking hidden treasures in churches known peculiarity of the Gotland churches that to them which had been plundered by the pointed arch appears as a decoraLIVING AGE.
tive feature earlier by half a century at tious inhabitants declare the tower least than in other parts of Europe. It haunted by " the shriekings of despair may have been introduced from the and many a stifled groan.” The farm East. To St. Per's or Peter's church, of Oja is still held by lineal descendof which a mere fragment remains, is ants of Ung Hans. also attached a story of hidden treasure. Perhaps the most pleasing of all the A poor child playing among the ruins traditions is that which sets forth how found a large sum of money. Filling Gotland in the first instance became her pinafore with as many pieces as she terra firma. According to the early could carry, she bore them home in Saga, the “ Eye of the Baltic” was an triumph ; but from that moment she island that floated by night and sank by became hopelessly blind, and the re- day. Like Delos : mainder of the treasure was sought for
Long time the sport of ev'ry blast in vain.
O'er ocean it was wont to toss, Each of the dark grey wall towers Till grateful Phæbus moored it fast has also a name and tradition of its To Gyaros and high Myconos, own. The most thrilling is that con
And bade it lie unmoved and brave nected with the Maiden's Tower on the
The violence of wind and wave. north-west side of the ancient wall. In the case of Gotland, Thjelvar, son King Waldemar of Denmark plays the of Guti, acted the part of the grateful part of the hero, or, we may say, the god. Driven by famine from the kingvillain of the story. In order to test dom of Gotland, he set sail with his the truth of the fabulous wealth of son Hafdi and his daughter-in-law Visby, Waldemar disguised himself as Whitestar and a small company of a merchant, and, in the autumn of hungry followers, to seek sustenance 1360, took up his abode at the farm of elsewhere. Guided by a raven, they one Ung Hans, who dwelt at Oja, some steered their course towards the floatmiles from the city. Here the king ing isle. Thjelvar, learned in tradition, won the love of the fair but frail daugh- | boldly determined to land. Wise men ter of the farmer, obtaining with her had assured him that if fire could be assistance valuable knowledge of the brought to the island it would float no defences of Visby and of the best more. He ran the vessel into a small landing-places for his fleet. In the bay, and, landing, lighted a huge fire of spring, having carefully beguiled his wood. The prediction was fulfilled; unfortunate viciim with many false from that night the island never sank. promises, he returned to Denmark to His companions gathered round Thjelprepare for the enterprise. Soon after, var, praising his skill and wisdom ; but as we know, he besieged, captured, he waved them aside, and, pointing to and sacked the town. The only notice the new moon as it rose over the sea, he bestowed on the wretched girl was lifted his hands towards heaven and to order the farmhouse in which she thanked the gods who had graciously dwelt to be spared. It availed her led him to a new land. Fantastic cerelittle, for, overcome with shame and re- monies followed in honor of the young morse at having betrayed her country- moon, a principal feature being the men, and careless of her doom, she, consumption of vast quantities of new like Constance de Beverley, made full milk out of buffalo horns. Whence confession, meeting with the same came the milk does not appear. Thjelterrible fate as befell the false Mar- var with proper filial reverence named mion's betrothed. Infuriated by her the island Gutiland, after his father. treachery, the townsmen condemned Now a curious dream about three serher to be immured alive, choosing for pents visited Whitestar the first night her “living tomb" the tower which she slept in her new home, a dream has since borne the name of Jung- which in these dyspeptic days might fru. Here she was slowly starved to reasonably have been attributed to overdeath. No wonder that the supersti- indulgence in the new milk. The in
terpretation, however, given to it by a found the king and queen at the Smörseer who was of the company, was that gads board. The ambassador from Whitestar should become the inother of Gotland was announced, and Ivar. three sons at a birth, sons who should waited at the door expecting an invitacombine the wisdom of serpents with tion to join the feast. The king, howthe innocence of doves, and prove able ever, allowed him to remain where he rulers of the land. Again predictiou stood. After an interval he asked his was verified, and the trio received the visitor in a mocking tone what news he names of Guti, Graffr, and Gaufgaun. had brought from Gotland. Ivar, thorWhen Thjelvar died, Hafdi succeeded, oughly incensed, replied carelessly that and after him came the three sons, who there was nothing more remarkable to divided the island between them. To relate than that a mare had produced this day there are places called by their three foals at a birth.
They successfully cultivated “ Indeed,” said the king ; “ only two the land, improved navigation and colts can be nourished at the same time; trade, and defended themselves from what does the third do ?” their enemies with point and edge. “Just what I am doing," answered Their descendants were distinguished Ivar roughly ; “stands and looks on." for a strong veneration for groves and This bold answer pleased the king, hills, holy places, rune stones and idols. and Ivar was told to come forward and To these last the aristocracy claimed appease his appetite. His mission the privilege of sacrificing their sons prospered. In consideration of a yearly and daughters; the humbler folk had payment of sixty marks from the Gotto content themselves with an offering landers, and the loan of seven ships in of sheep and goats. Probably in this time of war, Eric agreed to befriend matter they thought themselves ag- them whenever they needed help, grieved. As the Gotlanders increased which, judging from their recent expein wealth and power, they were fre- riences, was likely to be tolerably often. quently attacked by their neighbors, The Gotlanders, who look upon Sweden and although for the most part success- with kindly eyes, never forget that ful in defending their independence, their first alliance with the mother they considered it prudent to seek the country was due to Ivar Straben. He protection of a powerful alliance. has many namesakes. Partly by piracy and partly by traffic, So great is the veneration for sagas valuable treasures had been amassed and legends, that most of the young on the island, and these roused rapa- Gotlanders bear the name of some hero cious desires in the minds of the pirate of renown in fact or fable. In the same chieftains who were their neighbors. way the gards or farmholdings are often
The islanders had several times called after heathen deities, and the sought assistance at the Swedish court, plants in like manner. Thus, the comsending presents of white horses, oxen mon yellow stone-crop goes by the with gilded horns, and such-like tritles. name of Thor's skagg (beard), and is It usually happened, however, that the considered of good omen to the wellpresents were retained and the petition ing on which it grows. The stinging dismissed. An exception, however, is nettle, barley, and the small fern, ruta recorded in the success of one Ivar muraria, are also named after the god Straben, or Longshanks, who was of thunder. chosen as envoy to King Eric of Swe- Numerous relics of ancient times are den. Before departing on his perilous found scattered over the island ; notaerrand, Ivar demanded the payment of bly memorial stones bearing quaint three ransoms in hard cash, so that in drawings of men and animals, or of the event of losing his life, his wife ships in full sail. The most remarkand child would be provided for. Hav- able stands in the parish of Hallingbö. ing effected this sensible form of in- On one side of the stone are inscribed surance, he arrived at Upsala, and I some curious characters, and the draw