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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