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Synopsis: The Cross (Kristin Lavransdatter)

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Another spoiler alert! Here is my synopsis of the third book of the great trilogy, for those who haven't the time to read it, or for those who wish to refresh their memory. The book is divided into three parts with chapters according to the numbering below.

I Honour among Kin

1. Kristin visits Simon and Ramborg. Ramborg is turning out to be a quarrelsome wife, and Simon asks nothing of her. Kristin goes to the mountains for the summer with Munan and Lavrans.

2. Kristin misses Husaby and Nidaros. She has had a miscarriage and is ambivalent about having another child. She ponders that she, Erlend, her boys and Ulf are either treated with suspicion or not at all liked. She believes that Erlend must be frustrated, though he does not complain about being stuck at Jørundgård. Kristin ponders that Sunniva’s little boy Åsulf might have been Erlend’s. Naakkve is sixteen and getting up to mischief with a maid, Astrid. Kristin feels empty and has an aversion for Erlend. She promised herself she would never reproach him for his past misdeeds, but she feels suffocated and in a state of spiritual aridity. Simon arrives at night to ask Kristin to tend to his son, Andres, delirious and in danger of death. She returns to his farm with him and begins tending the sick child.

3. As Andres’ plight worsens, Kristin goes to the churchyard to make a pact with the dead for Andres’ life. It is a horrific experience, but Andres does come to. Simon admits to himself that he is dreams of Kristin and their life together had things worked out differently.

4. Simon reflects on his siblings. Their happiness is an encouragement to him when he is feeling discontent with his own lot. Simon goes to confession, but out of shame and a lack of contrition, he omits his part in the Kristin’s sorcery. He fears it has infected Andres in some way. Kristin and Erlend visit Simon and Ramborg to ask that Simon join Erlend in speaking for Ulf Haldorssøn, who is to be wed. Simon, who has much respect and affection for Ulf, heartily agrees.

5. Ulf marries Jardtrud, who resents that Ulf appears Erlend’s and Kristin’s servant – even though he is a kinsman. Erlend is without friends, but Ramborg makes an effort to be friendlier to him and Kristin. Jardtrud gives birth to a still born boy, two months too early, and rants that she would never have married Ulf if she had known things would go this way. Simon and Erlend go to settle a property inherited from Lavrans. Simon slays one of the men when he mocks Lavrans’ piety. Erlend intervenes to prevent more killing. Simon is keenly aware that he and Erlend are now even in having saved each other. Erlend again thanks Simon for all he had done for him. “But you must remember, Simon, the old saying: Many a man is given what was intended for another, but no one is given another man’s fate”. Simon is embarrassed by this.

6. Gaute implies Simon is a traitor to his father. He remembers the Dyfrin seal on the letters Erlend gave him to burn before he was arrested for treason. Simon is confused and believes the seal must have been that of his brother, Gyrd. He confirms this and makes up with Erlend and Gaute, only then to tell Erlend that he cannot forgive him for stealing Kristin away from him. When he returns home, Ramborg complains that he loves Kristin more than her. Rather fed up, Simon refuses to go to Mass the next day.

II. Debtors

1. Erlend tells Kristin that he and Simon parted as foes, but not the reason why. Kristin is much saddened and misses her Andres. She assumes it was Erlend’s fault and is bitter with him. Moreover, she feels she is more and more losing Naakkve to Erlend. When there is renewed discontent with King Magnus, Naakkve protests that his father should be able to reclaim his ancestral estates if enough men intercede for him. “If you expect to receive the help of kinsmen from those quarters, you’d be looking for solace in the backside of a dog”, Erlend replies. Kristin is uneasy about Naakkve’s, Bjørgulf’s and Gaute’s ways with women and hopes to find matches for them soon. Naakkve takes an interest in one girl, but she is found with child – not Naakkve’s. Kristin grows increasingly frustrated with Erlend and takes it out on the boys. Ivar and Skule are little rascals, but all the brothers are very close. She is proud of them, even if she sometimes forgets to be grateful.

2. Naakkve (who knows Latin from his stay in the monastery in Trøndelag) is asked to interpret for a Flemish pilgrim knight. The later offers to take him with him on his journeys, but Erlend shrewdly discerns that his intentions for the boy are less than honest. Naakkve, is mortified and says that at any rate, he will not leave without Bjørgulf. Kristin reflects on a recurring dream of one of her infant sons being devoured by a beast. Kristin despairs for her sons’ future and castigates Erlend for his old wrongs – again! Erlend leaves without saying a word and rides to his Haugen estate.

3. Kristin learns that Erlend intends to settle at Haugen but she asks nothing further. As she grieves the absence of Erlend, she grows taciturn with the boys and distant from them. Without asking permission, the three older boys visit their father, but Kristin cannot get any information out of them upon their return. Sira Solmund begins to ask questions, answered by Kristin with ambiguity. Sira Eirik tells Kristin some hard truths and urges reconciliation. Simon runs into Kristin and invites her to his farm to see her sister, but she politely declines. There is a furious storm and Sira Eirik processes across a dangerous bridge over the river with priests and choir. Kristin spots Erlend, but is embarrassed to speak to him. He does not come home but disappears again. Kristin would like another child, but with Erlend away, this is impossible. She feels she has become completely indifferent to him. Simon has begun to feel guilty, but shows no sign of it to his newly pregnant wife or anyone else.

4. While breaking up a fight in an alehouse, Simon receives a knife wound to his arm and it becomes infected and he hallucinates, seeing his long-dead cousin. He realises the infection will kill him. Kristin nurses him on his farm while Gaute goes to fetch Ramborg, who is away. Simon intends to profess his undying love to Kristin, but instead urges her to reconcile with Erlend and to tell him he is sorry for his parting words. Kristin promises to honour his dying wish. Sira Eirik comes to hear Simon’s confession, give him the Extreme Unction and Viaticum. Kristin sobs and kisses “his wretched body, which was already starting to decay”. Simon has a difficult end before finally dying, at age 42. Upon hearing the news, Ramborg goes into labour six weeks early.

5. Ramborg’s son – Simon Simonssøn – thrives. Ramborg tells Kristin she is betrothed to Jammælt Halvardssøn. She blames Kristin that Simon’s affections were always with her rather than Ramborg. Kristin rides to Haugen and is filled with pity when she finds the place “more like an animal’s lair”, in disarray. In spite of Erlend’s impoverished state, she finds him looking as noble and handsome as ever. Kristin asks him to return, but he believes it would be best for them to remain separated. She passes on Simon’s message before spending the night with him, “just as powerless against him as ever”. He tells her Naakkve had apparently fathered a stillborn child. Erlend implores Kristin to stay with him and leave the farm to the boys. The smaller two might come, though. He is happier here than he has ever been. She recognises she is pregnant, but feels she has to return for the sake of Lavrans and Munan. Upon returning to Jørundgård, she feels that he will return soon after having been together again.

6. Kristin feels youthful and carefree, and no longer scolds the boys. Christimas comes and Sira Eirik dies but still Erlend does not reappear. At length, Kristin sends Naakkve and Gaute to tell their father the news that he might return. They come back without him, but with the message that he has been waiting for Kristin in Haugen and does not see the pregnancy as a reason for her not to join him. She has a boy, but she begins to act rather peculiarly. She threatens to relieve Ulf of his duties when he is determined to fetch Erlend and strikes Skule across the face when he insists that he will go regardless. There has been gossip about Kristen and questions as to who the father might be. The child is baptised Erlend, as a slight to his father. The father’s name was never given to a child unless the father was dead. From this moment the child weakens and Kristin feels the condition to keep him is to forgive Erlend. But she will not accept that condition. Since the child was named, the other boys remain aloof from their mother. Little Erlend dies just short of three months old.

7. Bishop Halvard of Hamar comes to Sil for confirmations and Ulf is to be Munan’s sponsor. Ulf is separated from his wife and in the cemetery, he has words with her kinsmen. He takes an axe and strikes one in the arm. Kristin goes before the bishop and through the conversation she begins to understand what is implied: that Ulf is the father. She professes with some indignation the baselessness of these rumours, though Sira Solmund remains accusatory. When she returns home, the boys say they knew nothing of such rumours, but they are determined to defend their mother’s honour with arms. Naakkve, Bjørgulf and Ivar chide Kristin for her self-absorption while they were growing up. The boys arm themselves, and Kristin for the first time loves them more than their father. They go to see the bishop, who agrees to speak to Naakkve alone. He admirably and courteously explains the situation and the bishop treats wisely and justly. Outside, the boys have been threatened and Bjørgulf has landed a blow on a man with his axe. Gaute has struck the insolent Sira Solmund who provoked him with words about his mother. Thew bishop sends the boys home under guard of sensible men. In the meantime, Lavrans takes a horse, telling the men he is off to fetch a knight-relative to defend his mother’s honour.

8. Lavrans is not going where he said, but instead to Haugen to fetch Erlend. It is dark and he doesn’t know the way but trusts the horse, which has made the journey many times. He tells Erlend all that has happened and the two ride on Erlend’s horse back to Jørundgård. On the way he acknowledges he has been a foolish man. Upon arrival, Lavrans collapses and Kristin takes him while treating Erlend with scorn. One of the guards takes Kristin by the arm, telling her not to speak to her husband so. Erlend strikes him with his axe for laying hands on his wife and is speared through the groin. His boys help him to a bed while Kristin is hysterical with distress. She tends to his wounds but it is hopeless. Erlend begs her forgiveness for all the misfortune he brought on her and tells his boys how much he was to blame and how much their mother loves them. Gaute proclaim how proud the boys are to be called his sons and Erlend tells them not to grieve their mother as he has done. Kristin wants to send for the priest, but Erlend refuses to confess to Sira Solmund. He tells Kristin that there has been too much between them to part as a Christian husband and wife. He sinks into unconsciousness. Naakkve rushes in and weeps over his father’s hand. Kristin tells him to “Go away!” to sit with his brothers against the wall. One of the bishop’s priests comes in with viaticum, but Kristin pays no attention. Erlend is already dead.

III The Cross

1. With Erlend gone, Kristin had no strength to live until the arrival of disease, when she roused herself. Munan died of it (the year after Erlend’s death). Kristin is only forty but refuses to entertain suggestions of remarriage by her brother-in-law, Jammælt. Ivar and Skule go to stay with Sir Munan’s son Inge (son of Brynhild Fluga!). Naakkve and the now blind Bjørgulf state their intention to enter the monastery at Tautra. Naakkve struggles to keep Bjørgulf going after he tries to kill himself in despair and to free Naakkve of an oath. Ulf departs for the north. Gaute is the only popular son in the region. Norway has its own king once more, and Skule has gone to serve one of the king’s leading men, Bjarne Erlignssøn. Ivar’s service with Inge ended with enmity and he marries an older but delightful widow. Naakkve tells his mother of his and Bjørgulf’s departure to the monastery. When she advises he wait longer, he reminds her that she pushed him away from his father’s deathbed and has no right to advise him now. He recalls Erlend’s dying unconfessed and unanointed. They leave for Nidaros and are accepted as novices. Of all her sons, only Gaute and Lavrans remain.

2. Gaute is popular with the girls, and one conceives by him. He provides for mother and child, has the daughter baptised Magnhild, but she dies. As Gaute seems a natural master of Jørundgård and is energetic and enterprising, Kristin is immensely proud. Against the will of her kin, Gaute has brought the beautiful young Jofrid Helgesdatter, who is carrying his child, from Bergin to Jørundgård. Kristin welcomes her perhaps too warmly, she reflects. Gaute and Jofrid continue to sleep together, and though she is not too happy with this, Kristin gets on well with Jofrid.

3. Kristin is glad that Jofrid will be the next mistress of the estate; later she begins to be less enthusiastic about the proud and sometimes stubborn girl. Jofrid gives birth to Erlend Gautessøn. Ramborg’s husband has been made a knight but it reported she has grown fat and lazy. Ivar and Skule visit Jørundgård and Lavrans intends to leave with the former. After some difficulties, the betrothal of Gaute and Jofrid is negotiated and they are wed a month later with all honour.

4. Everything is going well for Gaute and Jofrid, though Kristin noticed Jofrid could be domineering and stingy and was jealous of her. Still, Kristin tries to be amenable and not to interfere. She decides to go on pilgrimage to Nidaros for the feast of St Olav and to visit Naakkve and Bjørgulf. Gaute accompanies her for the beginning and when they must part, he begins sobbing at the thought that they have made Kirstin’s life difficult and he begs her not to go. Kristin reassures him that she loves them both. Along the way she has time to reflect and spiritual conversation with two Franciscans. She determines to leave Jørundgård, accepting her time there is over and that it will be best for the young couple.

5. Kristin comes to Nidaros two days before the feast of St Olav and lodges with a kindly ex-guardsman of Erlend, and his wife. With a child in her arms that she held for its mother, but was then separated from her, she meets Gunnulf, who provides milk for the child. He tells of Kristin’s two oldest boys, now Cistercian novices. At first, they had been models of piety, but Naakkve has grown spiritually proud and rebellious until he was locked in a cell and threatened with separation from Bjørgulf. Then he reformed his ways. Kristin reflects on her life, seeing it as one sees one’s home from the crest of a mountain above. She attends the glorious Mass of St Olav, praying for those who were as poor as she and who had suffered as she had suffered.

6. Kristin visits Brothers Nikulaus – who looks like Erlend in a cowl – and Brother Bjørgulf at Tautra. They are pleased to see her, and glad she is going to the convent, but otherwise the conversation is subdued. Kristin moves to the convent of Rein across the fjord from Nidaros. Sira Eiliv is chaplain to the nuns and Kristin sets about serving a deformed Sister Turid, who reminds her of her sister Ulvhild. Rein is a sister convent to the monastery of Tautra, and is served either by those monks or a secular priest. Sira Eiliv was sent to put the convent‘s administration in order, but the sisters are notoriously resistent. Kristin is accepted as a corrodian [a paying, live-in widow] and promises chastity and obedience. She gives her seal to Sira Eiliv, who breaks it in half as a sign of worldly renunciation. She wears the habit of nuns with the intention of taking vows before Christmas, 1349. Brother Bjørgulf has had a dream that the two brothers would both see their mother before Christmas. Catching some farmers sabotaging the monks‘ salmon pens, Brother Nikulaus – cursing – belted one and threw another in the river.

7. Kristin confides to Sira Eiliv that she fears Naakkve should never have become a monk. Sira Eiliv disagrees, and goes on to talk about obedience, love, penance and wilfulness. Skule visits his mother at Rein. His face is rather disfigured from a brawl. He tells her that Lavrans is in a bishop’s service in Iceland, Ivar has two children, Gaute and Jofrid are thriving and have had a little girl: Kristin Gautessøn. With Kristin‘s absence at Jørundgård, Jofrid can‘t stop praising her mother-in-law with heartfelt pride. Skule begs Kristin‘s forgiveness for a violent outburst against her in childhood. The black death is coming. A man dying of the plague is brought and the abbess, Fru Ragnhild, commands he be brought in and Kristin tends him, though not without a sense of horror. The plague quickly spreads and panic sets in among the villagers. The nuns are tireless in their service. Fru Ragnhild is infected but bears her torments patiently, but she recovers. Other sisters become sick and die. Seabirds are replaced by ravens. Kristin loses the demeanour of a nun and becomes once more the mistress of the past and takes charge of the work. She hears of sin and depravity rampant among the despairing citizenry. When the plague seems to be abating, a little girl professes it is not the work of the Virgin Mary, but Hel – goddess of the underworld. When sacrifices are offered to her, she leaves. The girl tells Sister Kristin of Tore, son of the dissolute woman Steinunn, who has been captured and will be sacrificed to Hel that very night in the cemetery. Kristin asks permission to intervene, and Fru Ragnhild leads the other nuns with her. Kristin finds the boy in an open grave and pulls him out amidst the vilest curses and threats of rough men. One challenges Kristin to get the mother, already dead for ten days, this night – only then will be believe in their virtue and in the mercy of Christ. She promises. Sira Eiliv and Ulf appear and disperse the men. Ulf goes with Kristin; he came from Nidaros to tell her that Naakkve and Bjørgulf are dead. Kristin recalls Bjørgulf‘s dream. Kristin feels the symptoms within her, but pushes on with Ulf to collect the Steinunn‘s rotting corpse. By sheer willpower, she carries a makeshift bier with Ulf. They are met by Sira Eiliv and several men (including some from the cemetery, filled with shame) who take the burden. Kristin kisses the dirty shoe of the dead woman before she begins to cough up blood. For Masses for Steinunn, she gives her father‘s cross and wedding ring to Ulf, weeping with realisation of what that ring symbolised. At last, the end comes with a roar, fading away to a calm “fine morning mist before the sun breaks through”. Ulf and Sira Eiliv go outside and see there is fine new snow all about.

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2 comentários

Sarah Congdon
Sarah Congdon
18 de jan.

I greatly appreciate this synopsis and the others! I just finished reading Kristin Lavransdatter and it's helpful to reference this for bits that I may have missed.

20 de jan.
Respondendo a

You're very welcome, Sarah!

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