This paper examines the role of the vapenhus and its accompanying painted programs in late-medieval Swedish parish churches. The vapenhus is a small chamber that became a popular addition to the architecture of the Swedish parish church in the 15th century, particularly in the province of Uppland. It became the only entry and exit point for the parishoners and acted as a public space where exorcisms were performed, baptisms made, and was a practical space to take shelter in during bad weather. While small, the vapenhus generally contains an enormously rich painted program complete with Biblical scenes, devotional scenes such as the Mass of Saint Gregory, moral images such as the Wheel of Life, as well as many images particular to Swedish oral tradition, such as the Blåkulla and the Sko-Ella. The development of the vapenhus can be connected to the growth of a wealthy, landowning clergy in Sweden in the 15th century. This paper investigates how these images are juxtaposed against each other to send coded messages about inclusion and exclusion in Swedish society, and how many of these images particularly target women. These images are read in conjunction with medieval Swedish texts and sermons. This paper theorizes that the painted programs of the vapenhus, situated in a liminal space that straddles the secular world and the proscribed world of the church, acted as agents of social control and cohesion in medieval Swedish rural society.
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