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Murder of Saint Canute IV

The English monk Ælnoth’s writings tell of how of “King Canute the IV” or “Canute IV the Saint” (Knud IV den Hellige) and his brother Benedikt came to be murdered in 1086.  Canute IV the Saint ruled Denmark from 1080-1086.  Ælnoth’s writings also tell us how the two were subsequently laid in the crypt in the St. Canute’s Cathedral (Sankt Knuds Kirke) in 1095.

Ælnoth’s writings tell us how Canute had aspirations to invade England in an effort to take the throne from the aging William the Conqueror.  Canute ordered the assembly of 1000 Danish ships and 60 Norwegian ships in the Limfjord (Northern Jutland).

In an effort to raise capital to pay for the raid Canute instituted a poll tax requiring subjects to pay one tenth of their production to the church.  This enraged peasants and noblemen alike.  Even Canute’s brother Olaf protested which caused Canute to have him exiled to Flanders (Northern France).  Olaf would go on to rule Denmark after Canute’s death.  Olaf ruled Denmark from 1086-1095.

Due to the civil unrest of his subjects, Canute was delayed in travelling north to join the assembled ships, which were waiting for him in the Limfjord.  When the Canute finally arrived he found that the majority of the Danish ships had gone home after growing hungry and impatient waiting for their king to arrive.  Canute was furious at what he felt was an enormous betrayal.  Without adequate manpower to attack England he sent the Norwegians home, and then ordered enormous fines for those Danes whom he felt had abandoned him.  These fines amounted to more than the annual income for the majority of Danes at the time.  This decree did not have the desired outcome for Canute. The people turned on their king and revolted.  In Northern Jutland buildings associated with the king were attacked and burned, and royal officials were murdered.

Canute, his brother Benedikt and their supporters were forced to first flee to Southern Jutland, and then once again to the island of Funen (Fyn).  On Funen the group made their way to Odense.  However, news quickly spread that Canute was located in Odense and a large group of peasants and rebels pursued Canute and his followers into the local wooden structure, St. Alban's Priory.  This is not to be confused with the modern day St. Alban's Church (Sankt Albani Kirke), which is located about 100 meters from the modern day St. Canute’s Cathedral.  The peasants refused to recognize the Priory as a religious sanctuary and murdered Canute, Benedikt and 17 of his followers.

Shortly after the king’s burial there were reports of miraculous healings taking place at the site of his burial.  Ælnoth’s writings go on to say that in 1095, King Canute the IV and his brother Benedikt were moved from their graves into the crypt of St. Canute’s Cathedral.  According to Ælnoth’s writings the church was under construction at the time.  From that time on “Canute IV the Saint” (Knud IV den Hellige) and his brother Benedikt’s remains have been located in the Cathedral’s crypt.

In 1100 or 1101, King Canute the IV was canonized by the Catholic Church, which made him Denmark’s first Catholic saint.  St. Canute’s Cathedral was a site of pilgrimages during the middle ages.  Pilgrims would travel far and wide to visit the remains of Denmark’s first Catholic Saint.

In 2008, a CT scan was conducted on Canute IV the Saint’s remains, and it was discovered that he died from a wound to the abdomen which was deep enough to strike the sacrum.  The CT scan also showed that he was right handed and had a slim build.        

LastUpdate: 2016-04-03 22:02:21