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The Seafarers’ Saint: Medieval Representations of St Nicholas in the North Sea Area
Paper by Ragnhild Bo
Given at the Second St Magnus Conference, held at Lerwick, Shetland, in April 2014
Abstract: The cult of St Nicholas was spread in Scandinavia in the last decades of the 11th and the first decades of the 12th centuries. Because the medieval cult of saints was not limited to the liturgy of the saints themselves, but was a wider social phenomenon. Political and dynastic links, as well as cultural and, not least, trading contacts, were also influential, and the cult of St Nicholas rose rapidly. Judging from church dedications, St Nicholas eventually rivalled that of the Virgin Mary in many regions. In this paper, I will look at medieval representations of the seafarer’s saint in artefacts made and used in the North Sea area. St Nicholas is depicted in altar frontals, in sculpture and in illuminated manuscripts, and as well as offering an overview of the various representations of the saint, I pretend to offer an outline of the cultic functions the various representations supposedly evoked.