Westminster Abbey (Westminster) 800-1066 Danish, Denmark, Religion, Vikings

From 800 onwards a series of Danish assaults on English coastlines started to take place. In the second half of the century Danish raiders first began to settle in England. On Wednesday 10 April 1661 Samuel Pepys made a note in his Diary of a visit to the Cathedral of Rochester. There he observed ‘the great door of the church, which, they say, was covered with the skins of the Danes’. The legend of the Danes skin is an old one, and applies to several churches in the South East. Usually the story goes that a Danish pirate tried to sack the church and was caught. An outraged mob then turned on the Dane. They skinned him and nailed the skin to the church door as a warning to anyone with the temerity to consider such crime.

John Dart, in his History of the Abbey Church of St Peter’s, Westminster (1723) describes a chamber once known as the Chapel of Henry VIII, and used as a ‘revestry’ (the chamber where vestments were kept). This chamber, Dart writes, ‘is inclosed with three doors, the inner cancellated, the middle, which is very thick, lined with skins like parchment, and driven full of nails. These … were some skins of the Danes, tann’d and given here as a memorial of our delivery from them’. The door was examined by John Quekett of the Hunterian Museum and founder of the Royal Microscopical Society who confirmed in 1849 that in each of the cases the skin was human. The Viking Age came to an end in 1066.