Fisk, faste og gamle gåter i Bergenhus og Steinvikholm

  • Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide


Fish, Lent and old Riddles in Medieval Castles 

An enigmatic structural feature may be noted in several medieval castles. To date, a satisfactory interpretation as to purpose has been lacking. The feature is a construction reminiscent of wells, and its use seems to be related to the holding of water – yet they fail to fully satisfy an interpretation of being wells or cisterns.  By viewing the constructions within the wider context of medieval society, a more convincing interpretation is evident. In medieval society, and also for a few decades after the Lutheran reformation of 1537, there was great demand for fish during Lent, and this led the Church to organize the breeding of fish. Fresh fish, particularly from fresh water, was also a high status food, expected to be served to high status individuals. At times of siege, it was difficult to catch fish without putting people at risk, and the castle was built to protect lives. The structures located in the kitchen areas at Steinvikholm and Bergenhus are interpreted as fish tanks, intended to keep fish alive and fresh. A construction with a similar inferred function is also to be seen in the Archbishop’s palace, dated to the middle of the 16th century.