Nydala Klosterträdgård

Nydala Monastery Garden

Nydala Monastery Garden

What do we know today about medieval horticulture in Sweden? Actually, not a lot.

The reason being that in Sweden and Scandinavia, there are few written sources that tell us what and how they grew in our country before the 16th century. Another reason is that, up until now, few archaeological excavations that could answer this question have been made.

Nydala Abbey was founded in 1143 by French Cistercians and is, together with Alvastra, one of our first Cistercian monasteries. According to the rules of order, the monasteries were to be self-sufficient in the production of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. However, today we have no written sources that could tell us about Nydala’s monastic gardens during the time when monks lived there. No written sources are known either after the destruction of the monastery during the Reformation in the 16th century.

This homepage has been translated by 9 last-year-students at the Social Science Programme (SPSA2a and SPSA2b) during October 2004.

The work has been part of the History C-course which is held in English, a special feature of this school, and has been carried out under the guidance of their teacher, Eva Lindholm. The students who have participated are Emelie Andersson, Madeleine Andersson, Henrik Grahn, Daniel Ihreborn, Tobias Martinsson, Simon Norrsveden, Karin Schifferl, Ida Svensson and Erika Unbeck. They started their work by studying English texts about monastery gardens before making their own translations. Their work has been read and checked by two native English teachers.
Revised in 2012.

Today Nydala is a small village situated about 20 km northeast of Värnamo in the middle of the forests of Småland. Here, the old monastery ruins have been lying relatively undisturbed for several hundred years. Can they perhaps today tell us more about our medieval garden history?

Welcome to enter Nydala Monastery Garden, which aims to show the visitor a glimpse of medieval horticulture within a long-lost abbey.
For information in Swedish or English, please contact the Society of Nydala Monastery Garden (see ”Kontakta oss” in the main menu).

Text: Hanne Romanus, Translation: Finnveden’s Upper Secondary School

NYDALA monastery garden

The first idea for a medieval garden developed in 2002 and in 2003 a pre-study for a project was accomplished to point out what existing requirements there were. Proposals for guidelines were also decided. In 2004, the project Nydala Monastery Garden started as a cultural heritage project that, among other things, comprehended garden archaeological examinations of the Nydala Abbey ruin precincts. Simultaneously several activities took place such as lectures, seminars, exhibitions and study circles about medieval monastery life and horticulture. The purpose was to spread knowledge and create an interest in our cultural heritage and also to form a foundation for later discussions on how it should be managed in the future. The project became a co-operational project between the Municipality of Värnamo, the County Council Board of Jönköping, the County Museum in Jönköping and the local associations Nydala Village Community, Nydala Local Folklore Society and the Parish of Nydala. In 2007 the project ended with the building and planting of the first part of the Nydala Monastery Garden. In the same year the Society of Nydala Monastery Garden was founded.

The site before 2007

The site of the present Nydala Monastery Garden is located to the west of the abbey church and within direct connection to the former gate chapel, later called the Peasant Church, and the remnants of the monastery wall. As early as in 1943 the area west of the church is called the monastery garden and is described as an open field between the road to Nydala manor and the elevation south of the church. Lesser plantings were made in the monastery garden in 1992 which meant that the lawn was complemented with fruit trees in the south and that a small plantation of medicine- and ornamental plants was laid out by the Peasant Church in connection to a seating ground.
On the 21st of May 2004, a plant inventory for the monastery garden was made by the botanist Lennart Persson. The inventory area was divided into four smaller areas which covered today’s monastery garden, the area around the ruins and the area next to the ruins to the east of the church.

The first cultivation

When agriculture was established in our country around 4000 BC, people also came to introduce culture plants. The first kinds of corn, like wheat and barley, now came together with peas. Man has since then both consciously and unconsciously added different species to the list and today we believe that maybe 10 000 culture plants have been introduced in our country. Around 7000 of these are being grown today; outdoors and indoors. The definition of a culture plant can vary. Some of these plants have spread and are now wild and are therefore considered to be a part of our domestic flora. Among these you can mention the introduction of goutweed in the pre-historic time, chicory and elder from the time of the Vikings, caraway and mezereon from the medieval times and finally reed grass and sycamore which were introduced in the 18th century. Some plants have occurred naturally, but have been supported and grown by man. The longer you go back in time the harder it is to find out how and when a plant came to be grown or when man started to use it.

Behind fence, wall and bank

To find a beginning for Swedish garden history, you generally need to go back to the Middle Ages. The conception garden existed in the meaning of an
enclosure where fruit-trees were planted. The enclosure itself was central, and on the same theme our provincial laws from the 14th and 15th centuries mention apiaries, hop gardens, cabbage gardens and herb gardens. The medieval garden was accompanied by the conception –yard (in Old Swedish called –garper or –gardher) with the meaning of an enclosed piece of land. The medieval garden can then rather be seen as a conception that includes all horticulture during the medieval era.

With the help of the provincial laws, you can divide the medieval horticulture into different types of gardens, such as the garden of trees (fruit-trees etc.) the garden of herbs (spices and healingplants, flowers) the cabbage garden (cabbage, peas, beans and other vegetables) and the garden of hops. So far we haven’t any written sources or archaeological traces that can tell us what the medieval gardens in our country looked like or exactly what was grown there. What is known is that monasticism in many fields was a bearer and spreader of culture and so also in the fields of gardening. The monks brought for instance knowledge of grafting technique, necessary knowledge in order to produce new species of fruit.

Inside the monastery establishments all the plantations needed for the monks to satisfy their own and their visitors’ requirements of food, drink and medicine should be at hand. Most likely there have been gardens with influences from the continent, but adapted to the Nordic climate.

Stubborn plants

Besides pure archaeological traces, you sometimes talk of so called plant relics. Those are species that have managed to establish themselves successfully and stay on one location during a long period of time and by its presence can tell us if an earlier plantation existed there.
One example is the Spring Snowflake / Leucojum vernum which flourishes at Vadstena Abbey. It probably came there during medieval times and has managed to remain through the centuries.
Today at Nydala you can find greater celandine / Chelidonium majus and columbine / Aquilegia vulgaris. They are common on other medieval monastery sites and possible plant relics that maybe came with the monks.


The purpose of the archaeological work was:
– To produce archaeological and scientific material, which can serve as a basis for the construction and rebuilding of a medieval monastery garden.
– To make a new garden possible within the ancient monument territory.

In connection with the archaeological examinations at Nydala spread knowledge of and interest in archaeological work.

The archaeological commission was accomplished in three phases. The first phase included a test-pit examination in 2004. The main question was whether there were any intact layers left from the monastery era within the so called monastery garden, but there were none. The reason is most likely that the monastery garden area has been cultivated for several centuries after the monastery period disturbing the layers of soil.

The examination was supplemented with a geophysical survey in order to locate possible constructions underground. With a bit of luck we would even have been able to locate remains of possible garden paths. The results were somewhat inconsistent, and no clear traces of gardens or paths could be found. On the other hand, a few buildings and other anomalies could be seen. More interesting results were achieved south of the monastery garden. Here we could see an oblong depression about 2 meters underground running through the area east-to-west. This could be the canal running through the cloister area you almost always find at Cistercian sites. Macrofossil- and pollen-analysis of layers in the canal should give very interesting results. Unfortunately the canal is situated within the private garden of the Nydala manor. This is why no excavations have been carried out in the area – yet.

A pollen-analysis of a nearby wetland was also carried out in order to find traces of different cultivated plants from the monastery era. The results showed that during the first hundred years after the arrival of the Cistercians barely no changes in the vegetation of the surroundings can be noticed. Not until the 14th century did cultivation of wheat, barley and hemp increase distinctively. The landscape as a whole became more open and cultivation and grazing of the land increased until the Reformation in the 16th century. After that a down-period followed which lasted until the 20th century and its modern farming techniques.

As a whole, we can say that we have not found any consistent traces of gardening from the monastery era. On the other hand, we only opened five small pits in this quite extensive monastery site.
As a by-product we have obtained new knowledge of the monastery in general, and in detail, how the landscape in Nydala has developed and transformed during the last 900 years.

The history of Nydala abbey

Text: Jan O.M. Karlsson © 1992/93, Translation: Finnveden’s Upper Secondary School

Almost 900 years ago, the monks who would found Nydala monastery arrived to Sweden. Ever since, the monastery’s destiny has been framed with both joy and tragedy.

The founding of Nydala by the bishop of Linköping
In the year of 1143 a group of monks came wandering from the monastery of Clairvaux in Burgundy to the place, by the lake Rusken, which would become their new home. In memory of their mother monastery Clairvaux, in Latin Clara-Vallis (The Clear Valley), they called their new home Nova-Vallis (The New Valley), Nydala. They founded their monastery in the middle of Småland on the land they had received from Gislo, the bishop of Linköping. The bishop’s donation was enlarged through other donations made by king Sverker the Old (died in 1156). Later on Gislo gave away the farms Sunnerby, Lundby and ”Witanzby” in the parish Vrigstad, one farm (Hubbestad?) in the parish Svenarum, Linneryd in the parish Tofteryd, Nöthult in the parish Byarum and finally Järnboda in the parish Hagshult.

Donations from far and near
During the reign of Karl Sverkersson (1161-1167), the monks also obtained fishing rights from the two brothers Peter and Germund, ”the headmen” of the district. Even the Archbishop of Lund, Absalon, and his successor Andreas Sunesson were friends of the monastery. They issued gifts and safety acts in Nydala’s favour during the late 12th century and early 13th century.
During the remaining Middle Ages, the monastery received an even flow of donations, both large and small, from noble families, burghers, priests and farmers with large holdings in Göta- and Svealand. The properties were mainly located in Småland but a few estates were situated in faraway places like Strängnäs and Öland. People donated everything from farm- and woodland, fishing rights and mills to personal property and money. Quite often it was a matter of donations resulting from legacies, which were linked to requests for masses and prayers for the donators as well as burial plots in the monastery church or in the monastery cemetery.

Senior citizen of the monastery
If you were wealthy you could in your later years become a senior citizen of the monastery. By giving a large donation to the monastery you could obtain the monks’ permission to build a house on the grounds of the monastery where you later lived until you died. The monks saw it as their duty to take care of the senior citizen until the end of his/her life and after the death of the donator his house and personal property were left to the monks.

The monks build in stone
After their arrival to Nydala, the monks immediately started on the work to build a monastery structure in stone. It took about one hundred years to complete the centre part. The whole monastery structure was completed by the middle of the 14th century.

Monks from Nydala establish a monastery on Gotland
After only twenty years in Småland, when the monks were still busy building the eastern part of the monastery church, a group of monks were sent to Gotland to found a new monastery. In the medieval chronicles, the 8th of September 1164 is mentioned as the founding date of the Roma monastery.

Alvastra, which in course of time was regarded as the main Cistercian monastery in Sweden, had already between 1140 and 1160 founded its first daughter monasteries. The fact that the monks in Alvastra and Nydala after such a short time were able not only to cultivate the soil and build splendid stone architecture but also establish their own daughter monastery during the construction phase of their order in Sweden, shows the strength of the Cistercian ”revivalism” during the 12th century.

Kristian II and the murders in Nydala
At the end of the Nydala monastery period, only a couple of years before the Reformation and the dissolution of monasticism in Sweden, a tragical event that caused a sensation all over Scandinavia took place. The following is told in different chronicles from the 1520s: ”On his way back to Denmark after the blood-bath of Stockholm, the union king Kristian II passes Nydala. The king and his company are all well received by the monks and the king demands to have the best wine of the monastery with his supper. The morning after, just as morning mass is held in the monastery church, the Abbot, Arvid Håkansson, and his monks are taken prisoners by the king. Several of the monks are taken out on the ice of lake Rusken, bound, and thrown into a hole in the ice. The Abbot Arvid, who manages to sever the ropes, gets out of the hole, but is attacked by the soldiers who force him back into the hole with their
swords and keep him under water with their lances until he drowns.”

The stories of what happened in Nydala were written down by the monks themselves in a short note in the register book of the monastery. The whole event is described in more detail in a statement issued by the Swedish Council of the Realm in June 1523 when the Parliament in Strängnäs had just chosen Gustav Vasa King of Sweden. In some of the written sources, the 25th and 27th of January or the 2nd of February is mentioned as the time of the murders. The number of monks who were murdered varies in the different stories between 6 and 12.

Gustav Vasa closes the monasteries
Only a few years after the murders of abbot Arvid and his monks, the history of the medieval monasteries in Sweden comes to an end. It was not primarily Martin Luther’s reformation that caused the closing of the Swedish monasteries, it was rather Gustav Vasa who took the opportunity to expropriate the money and possessions of the churches and the monasteries at the time of the reformation. It all began at a parliamentary session in Västerås in the year 1527, by posterity known as the Västerås Recess, when the King provided himself with the right to dispose of all church property. The very same year the King nominated worldly administrators to many monasteries in the country and these bailiffs collected the profit of monastery farming, precious metal objects and money to the treasury.

Nydalas property is conferred
In the autumn of 1527, Gustav Vasa conferred the farms and incomes of Nydala to Peter Skrivare, who he earlier that year had nominated the administrator of the monastery, its farms and revenues. In the fief document Peter was ordered to support the monks. In March 1529 the property of Nydala was bestowed upon the bailiff Gottfrid Sure and he was also instructed to provide for the monks. When the inhabitants of Småland later that year started their uprising against Gustav Vasa they simply killed Sure because of the crimes he had committed by order of the king, or in the name of the king.

The monks are forced away from the monastery
When Gustav Vasa had crushed the uprising in the autumn of 1529, he conferred the property of the monasteries to Gudmund Pedersson Slatte. Gudmund was allowed to keep the property until 1536. The rebels had supported Catholicism and monasteries and since many priests had been involved in the uprising, the monks were probably driven away from the monastery as early as in 1529. The fact that Slatte’s two fief document letters from 1529 and 1533 no longer mention provisions for the monks, can be considered as proof that the monks had to leave the monastery at that time.

Aristocratic owners
From the 1530s until the end of 1610, the King conferred the properties of the monastery to 6-7 different aristocratic owners, until the end of 1610. Some of the possessors during the 16th century are members of the families Leijonhufvud and Stenbock. During the second part of the 17th century the family
Ridderhjelm owned Nydala and they built the first manor in the southern part of the monastery area. During the 1670s and 1680s, Hans Isaak Ridderhjelm had the ruins of the eastern part of the monastery church restored. Here, he established the present parish church which was inaugurated in 1688 by the bishop of Växjö, Samuel Wiraenius.

The new estate
A new building for Nydala estate was built during the 1790s, by the owner of that time, Claes Stedt, south of the old 17th century- manor building.The plastered timber- house in two floors was finished in the year 1800. During the 19th century the ownership of Nydala estate often changed. In 1946 the main building was sold to the local authorities who rebuilt it as a school. In 1969 the school was closed.

The cistercians - a short background

Text: Jan O.M. Karlsson © 1992/93, Translation: Finnveden’s Upper Secondary School

International monastery order.
Together with Alvastra in Östergötland, Nydala was the oldest Swedish medieval monastery. The monasteries were both founded in 1143 and they belonged at the time to the 50-year-old Cistercian order. This order arose at the end of the 11th century in Burgundy (the wine region Bourgogne) in northeast France, as a protest- and reform movement within the Christian monastic-system.
The first monastery built in the name of the order was founded in the wilderness outside the city of Dijon on a spot called Cîteaux (Latinized to Cistercium). Robert, the founder of this order, gathered a crowd of monks who wanted to return to that simple life of prayer and hard work, which is described in the classical Christian monastery order from the year 500, the rule of the Holy Benedict of Nursia. What they protested against was the worldly riches and the good life in the monasteries of their time.

Five main monasteries
After the first ten years of hardships and setbacks, the monastery in Cîteaux was able to found its first daughter-monastery (La Ferté) in the year 1113. The year after it was followed by the monastery of Pontigny and in 1115 by Clairvaux and Morimond. Together with Cîteaux, these four monasteries were regarded as the main monasteries of the order.
The Cistercian idea about a simple life together with hard work was met with great sympathy in the Christian world and you can actually talk about a revivalist movement for simplicity and orthodoxy in the monastic movement during the 12th Century.

A big monastery family
At the end of the 1110s, an almost explosive expansion started for the Cistercian monastery family. Between the years 1110 and 1153, almost 350 new Cistercian monk monasteries were founded in all four corners of Europe, from Portugal and Ireland in the west, Sicily and Cyprus in the south, via Hungary and Poland in the east to Sweden and Norway in the north. Most of these monasteries emanated from Clairvaux, which from the founding in 1115 until 1150 was led by the charismatic abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (†1153 and canonized in 1174). The largest number of Cistercian monasteries existed during the first part of the 16th century when the order included almost 700 monasteries and 900 convents.
Alvastra and Nydala are regarded as nos 40 and 41 of the monasteries under Clairvaux and the first Cistercian monks in Sweden were sent out from Saint Bernhard himself to work among ”the raw and wild peoples of the north”.