In 1150, Cistercian monks established a settlement in Varnhem by the western slope of Billingen. The location was ideal, providing fertile land for farming and access to timber, stone and fresh water from the mountain.

The monks built up a small abbey, and excavation shows that they not only had advanced water and sewage systems but probably also laid channels for heating and ventilation.

By the end of the 13th century the abbey church in Varnhem was the largest church building in Sweden. The abbey flourished for several centuries. But during the Reformation in the 16th century the abbey fell into disuse and the church was left to its fate. Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie had the church restored in the 17th century and thanks to him it is in good condition today. The buildings of the abbey itself were left to decay, however, and it was not until the 1920s that excavation work began on the ruins. Life at the abbey is well documented and the museum by the church houses a model of the central abbey buildings together with fascinating images and descriptions.

The beautiful Varnhem church is the burial site of the royal dynasty of King Erik, which ruled during the 12th and 13th centuries. It is also the final resting place of the founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarl, and the “saviour” of the church, Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, and his wife, Maria Eufrosyne.

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