Birger Persson’s tomb slab
Tomb slab with reliefs and majuscule inscription, done in dark, polished Flemish limestone. The tomb slab depicts Judge Birger Persson and his wife Ingeborg Bengtsdotter.
The tomb slab rests on a limestone base executed as part of the 1970s restoration, replacing a pre-existing one. The central field of the slab has a man and woman as its principal motif. The man is shown at prayer. He is wearing a tunic, chain mail and a belt, with his sword and shield in front of him. The woman, also praying, wears a wimple and a full-length gown. A lion reposes at the man’s feet, a hound at the woman’s. Both are set in Gothic arches. Above the couple are two miniature scenes, in architectural style, showing how their souls are received into Heaven while saints are swinging censers.
Round the edge of the field showing the couple, their seven children are shown, set in arches. They include St Bridget, furthest down on the woman’s left side. A Latin inscription runs round the edge of the stone. Translated, it reads: “Here lies the noble knight, Lord Birger Persson, Judge (lagman) of Uppland, pray for us and his wife Ingeborg and their children. May their spirits rest in peace.” The pictorial surface of the stone has been damaged. This probably happened after the beginning of the 18th century.
Judge Birger Persson was one of the very biggest landowners in Sweden during his time. This is reflected by his tomb slab, which ranks among the costliest of Swedish medieval monuments. The principal figures on the stone are now badly damaged, but earlier copper engravings still extant show them to have been very finely carved. Probably both figures and inscription were formerly gilded and the surface still more highly polished. The tomb slab in its pristine splendour must have stood forth as one of the most magnificent and opulent monuments in the Cathedral. Initially, the clan’s banner and shields probably hung over the tomb. Art historian Herman Bengtsson writes that they were probably lost at a relatively early stage in the Cathedral’s history.
The portraits on the slab are highly interesting, in that the child portraits include the earliest surviving likeness of St Bridget. Her portrait and those of her parents – Judge Birger and his lady – are stylised ideal portraits and are not to be thought of as carved from the life. Instead they are meant to highlight the childlike innocence of Bridget and her siblings, their parents’ piety, the knightly virtues of Judge Birger and the fidelity of his wife. In that sense the slab conveys a good picture of the ideals of the upper classes at the time of its creation.