By Robert Voyles, Minnetonka, MN
The Sauk Lake Altar Rock — a local icon of Minnesota history and known for years as "The Viking Altar Rock" — seems to me to be one of a trifecta of American icons that share two commonalities, besides all three consisting of stone. Minnesota’s Kensington Runestone, the Sauk Lake Altar Rock and Rhode Island’s Newport Tower all appear to be connected, in a medieval setting, to Scandinavians and to the Catholic church. In this sense, all three icons appear to lend support to one another's authenticity and validity.
However, in spite of this inherent corroboration, I would like to point out that an earlier, common, aspect of the nearby Altar Rock is now seen by many local amateur historians — myself included — as ill advised. I’m referring to the notion that the Altar Rock was visited by (and its four stone holes chiseled out by) the Paul Knutsen party of men, who were thought by many to have been in Minnesota looking for "the lost Greenlanders," an idea stubbornly fostered by Hjalmar R. Holand, the KRS’s first staunch supporter.
Therefore, the idea of a local "Viking Trail “ wandering down and across Minnesota’s landscape is not tenable either, but mainly because the Viking Age was well over for a quarter of a millennium by the time the KRS was created in 1362. There is no proof that such a party of men ever left Scandinavia in the first place, let alone that they returned. Holand also believed — I think wrongly— that the KRS and the Altar Rock and the Newport Tower were each and all made by this same group of men.
In this regard, I will also point out that Hjalmar Holand believed, too, that the many authentic Scandinavian stone holes to be found in this region — such as those dozen or so in close proximity to Runestone Hill — were made by this same group of men and that they were hand-chiseled for the purpose of mooring their boat or boats. However, geology proves that water levels in Minnesota around the mid-fourteenth century were roughly what they are today, plus, in this forested region, stone holes would not have been used to moor boats, a custom commonly practiced in medieval times along Scandinavia’s rocky coastlines.
Other than fostering these few fallacies, Holand was a very astute scholar and a wonderful lifetime advocate and defender of the KRS. Ultimately, he provided a delightful ethnographic view of the Sauk Lake Altar Rock, demonstrating how the rock’s two rare horizontal stone holes were likely made by visiting Norsemen to support a Catholic altar — centuries before the arrival of Frenchmen or the region’s many immigrant farmers.
A complete history of The Sauk Lake Altar Rock, with accompanying photos, can be seen at my new blog, where I welcome commentary related to the Kensington Runestone: https://americanrunestone.blogspot.com.