Christianization of Scandinavia

The Christianization of Scandinavia as well as other Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, took place between the 8th and the 12th centuries. The realms of Scandinavia proper, Denmark, Norway and Sweden (Sweden is an 11th or 12th century merger of the former countries Götaland and Svealand[1]), established their own Archdioceses, responsible directly to the Pope, in 1104, 1154 and 1164, respectively. The conversion to Christianity of the Scandinavian people required more time, since it took additional efforts to establish a network of churches. The Sami remained unconverted until the 18th century.[2] Newer archaeological research suggests there were Christians in Götaland already during the 9th century, it is further believed Christianity came from the southwest and moved towards the north.[3]

Denmark was also the first of the Scandinavian countries which was Christianized, as Harald Bluetooth declared this around AD 975, and raised the larger of the two Jelling Stones.[4] The oldest still-existing church built in stone, is found in (former) Denmark, Dalby Holy Cross Church from around AD 1040.[5]

Although the Scandinavians became nominally Christian, it took considerably longer for actual Christian beliefs to establish themselves among the people in some regions,[6][7] while the people were Christianized before the king in other regions. The old indigenous traditions that had provided security and structure were challenged by ideas that were unfamiliar, such as original sin, the Incarnation, and the Trinity. Archaeological excavations of burial sites on the island of Lovön near modern-day Stockholm have shown that the actual Christianization of the people was very slow and took at least 150 to 200 years,[8] and this was a very central location in the Swedish kingdom. Thirteenth-century runic inscriptions from the merchant town of Bergen in Norway show little Christian influence, and one of them appeals to a Valkyrie.[9]

During the Early Middle Ages the papacy had not yet manifested itself as the central Roman Catholic authority, so that regional variants of Christianity could develop.[10] Since the image of a "victorious Christ" frequently appears in early Germanic art, scholars have suggested that Christian missionaries presented Christ "as figure of strength and luck" and that possibly the Book of Revelation, which presents Christ as victor over Satan, played a central part in the spread of Christianity among the Vikings.[11]

Mission of Hamburg-Bremen

Harald Bluetooth's runestone, at Jellinge
The Christian cross from the Frösö Runestone, symbolizing the Christianization of Jämtland
Dalby Heligkorskyrka
The Holy Cross Church in Dalby
DR 290 Sövestad 1
The Viking Age image stone Sövestad 1 from Skåne depicts a man carrying a cross.

Recorded missionary efforts in Denmark started with Willibrord, Apostle to the Frisians, who preached in Schleswig, which at the time was part of Denmark.[12] He went north from Frisia sometime between 710 and 718 during the reign of King Ongendus.[13] Willibrord and his companions had little success: the king was respectful but had no interest in changing his beliefs. Agantyr did permit 30 young men to return to Frisia with Willibrord. Perhaps Willibrord's intent was to educate them and recruit some of them to join his efforts to bring Christianity to the Danes.[14] A century later Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims and Willerich, later Bishop of Bremen, baptized a few persons during their 823 visit to Denmark. He returned to Denmark twice to proselytize but without any recorded success.[14]

In 826, the King of Jutland Harald Klak was forced to flee from Denmark by Horik I, Denmark's other king. Harald went to Emperor Louis I of Germany to seek help getting his lands in Jutland back. Louis I offered to make Harald Duke of Frisia if he would give up the old gods. Harald agreed, and his family and the 400 Danes with him were baptized in Ingelheim am Rhein.[15] When Harald returned to Jutland, Emperor Louis and Ebbo of Rheims assigned the monk Ansgar to accompany Harald and oversee Christianity among the converts.[16] When Harald Klak was forced from Denmark by King Horik I again, Ansgar left Denmark and focused his efforts on the Swedes. Ansgar traveled to Birka in 829 and established a small Christian community there. His most important convert was Herigar, described as a prefect of the town and a counselor to the king. In 831 the Archdiocese of Hamburg was founded and assigned responsibility for proselytizing Scandinavia.[17]

Horik I sacked Hamburg in 845 where Ansgar had become the archbishop. The seat of the archdiocese was transferred to Bremen.[17] In the same year there was a pagan uprising in Birka that resulted in the martyrdom of Nithard and forced the resident missionary Bishop Gautbert to flee.[18] Ansgar returned to Birka in 854 and Denmark in 860 to reestablish some of the gains of his first visits. In Denmark he won over the trust of then-King Horik II (not Horik I, who was murdered in 854 and opposed Christianity) who gave him land in Hedeby (proto-town to be replaced by Schleswig) for the first Christian chapel. A second church was founded a few years later in Ribe on Denmark's west coast. Ribe was an important trading town, and as a result, southern Denmark was made a diocese in 948 with Ribe as its seat, a part of the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen under its first bishop, St. Leofdag who was murdered that year while crossing the Ribe River.[19]

The supremacy of the archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen over ecclesiastical life in the north gradually declined as the papacy, from the pontificate of Pope Gregory VII onwards, involved itself more with the North directly.[20] A significant step in this direction was the foundation of an archbishopric for the whole of Scandinavia at Lund in 1103–04.[20]

Both the accounts of Willibrod and of Harald are semi-mythical, and integrate mythical and legendary themes from the Nordic pagan tradition into their Christian stories. A syncretized variant of the story of Harald, that has him battling Ragnar Lodbrok to establish Christianity in Denmark, appears in Book Nine of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. Ebbo is the name of a mythical Nordic figure, Ibor, also known as Egil or Orvandil, who is an archer, elf, and smith who turns against the Aesir gods and wages war upon them, and the story of Ebbo of Rheims integrates themes of the divine Ebbo's story, including peasant (non-Aesir) birth and migration. Harald's usurpation and his efforts at Christianization are related to several stories of "usurpation" and "changes in sacrifices", including the usurpation of Mithothyn and the introduction of the worship of Frey at Uppsala, in that they utilize similar motifs and mythical figures.

Scandinavian countries


The spread of Christianity in Denmark occurred intermittently. Danes encountered Christians when they participated in Viking raids from the 9th century to the 1060s. Danes were still tribal in the sense that local chiefs determined attitudes towards Christianity and Christians for their clan and kinsmen. Bringing Christian slaves or future wives back from a Viking raid brought large numbers of ordinary Danes into close contact with Christians for perhaps the first time.

As the chiefs and kings of Denmark became involved in the politics of Normandy, England, Ireland, France, and Germany, they adopted a kinder attitude toward their Christian subjects. In some cases the conversion of the chief or king appears to be purely political to assure an alliance or prevent powerful Christian neighbours from attacking. There were instances when the conversion of a powerful chief (Danish: jarl) or one of the kings was followed by wholesale conversions among their followers. In a few instances conversion was brought about by trial by ordeal miracles wrought by saintly Christians in the presence of the king or other great men of the time.

Christian missionaries recognized early on that the Danes did not worship stone or wooden idols as the north Germans or some Swedes did. They could not simply destroy an image to prove that Christ was a superior god. The great religious sites at Viborg, Lejre, Lund, and Odense were also the location of Denmark's great assembly places (Danish: landsting). Religious sites in Denmark were often located at sacred springs, magnificent beech groves, or isolated hilltops. Missionaries simply asked to build chapels in those places. Over time the religious significance of the place transferred itself to the chapel.

Even after becoming Christian, Danes blended the two belief systems together. Families who lived close to the earth did not want to offend the local spirits (Danish: landvætter), so offerings were left just as they had been in pre-Christian times. Sacred springs (Danish: kilder) were simply consecrated to one of the local saints associated with the spring and life went on much as it had before. Christian missionaries were able to help the process along by locating churches on or near sacred places, in some cases actually using wood from the sacred groves for church construction. Thor's hammer sign was easily absorbed by the cross.

Denmark has several saints, canonized by local bishops as was the custom in early Scandinavia or revered by locals as saints. Often these saints derive their veneration from deeds associated with the Christianization of Denmark. Viborg has St Kjeld, Aarhus has St Niels (also called St Nickolas), Odense has St Canute (Danish: Sanct Knud). Others include Canute Lavard, Ansgar, St Thøger of Vendsyssel, St Wilhelm, St Leofdag of Ribe, and others gave their lives and efforts to the task of making the Danes Christian.

King Gorm the Old (Danish: den Gamle), who was known in his lifetime as Gorm the Sleepy, was the first king of all of Denmark. Until his day, Danish kings were presumably local kings without influence over all the Danes. Denmark consisted of Jutland and Schleswig and Holstein all the way down to the Eider River, the main islands of Zealand, Funen, Langeland, the nearby lesser islands, and Skåneland. Gorm was said to be "hard and heathen", but Queen Thyra's influence permitted Christians to live more or less without trouble. Gorm and Queen Thyra's son, King Harald Bluetooth, boasted on one of the stones at Jelling that he had "made the Danes Christian". Harald Bluetooth is also mentioned in the inscription on the Curmsun Disc, dated AD 960s–980s. On the reverse of the disc there is an octagonal ridge, which runs around the edge of the object. In the center of the octagonal ridge there is a Latin cross which may indicate that Harald Bluetooth was Christian.

The first Danish king to convert to Christianity was Harald Klak, who had himself baptised during his exile in order to receive the support of Louis the Pious.[21] Rimbert reports that he set out to return home, accompanied by missionaries;[22] however, Sanmark regards it as "unlikely" that he actually returned home and thus considers his impact on the conversion of Denmark as "probably minor."[21]

Christianity only gained a strong hold in Denmark following the baptism of Harald Bluetooth.[21] Initially, Harald had remained pagan, although he had allowed public preaching by Christian missionaries as early as 935. Around 960, Bluetooth converted to Christianity,[21] reportedly when the Frisian monk Poppo held a fire-heated lump of iron in his hand without injury. Harald's daughter, Gunhilde, and his son, Sweyn Forkbeard were baptized, too. There was also a political reason for conversion. German histories record Harald being baptized in the presence of Emperor Otto I, Sweyn Forkbeard's godfather. One consequence of his conversion is that Danish kings abandoned the old royal enclosure at Jelling and moved their residence to Roskilde on the island of Zealand.

Sweyn rebelled against his father, who spent an inordinate amount of time and money raising a great stone at Jelling to commemorate his accomplishments. One day King Harald asked a traveller if he had ever seen human beings move such a heavy load. "I have seen Sweyn drag all of Denmark away from you, sir. Judge for yourself which of you bears the heavier weight."[23] Harald left the stone lying in the path, realizing at last that Sweyn had nearly succeeded in stealing the whole kingdom. Several battles brought the rebellion to stalemate, but in 985 Harald was mortally wounded by an arrow. Later his remains were buried in the little timber church at Roskilde, then Denmark's capital. His remains are supposed to be walled up in one of the pillars of Roskilde Cathedral.

Sweyn Forkbeard tried to wrest control of the church in Denmark away from the Holy Roman Empire and as a result was slandered by German historians of his day. He has been accused of relapsing from his Christian beliefs and persecuting Christians in England. In fact Sweyn gave land to the large cathedral at Lund to pay for the maintenance of the chapter. His army destroyed Christian churches in England as part of his invasion following the St. Brice's Day massacre of Danes organized by Aethelred. But when Sweyn became King of England and of Denmark, politics required that he show a kinder face toward the church which had opposed him.

Another Christianizing influence was the mass emigration of Danes to England and Normandy in the Viking years. Thousands of Danes settled in east central England and in northern France displacing or intermarrying with the locals who were Christian. Once part of a Danish clan became Christian, it often meant that the rest of the family's view toward Christianity softened.

By the early 11th century, certainly during the reign of Canute IV, Denmark can be said to be a Christian country. Later known as St. Canute, Canute IV was murdered inside St. Albans Church in 1086 after nobles and peasants alike rebelled at his enforcing the tithe to pay for the new monasteries and other ecclesiastical foundations which were introduced into Denmark for the first time during his reign. Both the institutions and the tax were considered foreign influences, and Canute's refusal to use the regional assemblies as was customary to establish new laws, resulted in his death and that of his brother, Prince Benedict, and seventeen other housecarls. In many ways the canonization of St. Canute in 1188 marks the triumph of Christianity in Denmark. When St. Canute's remains were moved into Odense Cathedral, the entire nation humbled itself with a three-day fast. Although he was not the first Dane to be made a saint, it was the first time for a king, the symbol of a more or less united Denmark, was recognized as an example worthy of veneration by the faithful.

From that time until 1536 when Denmark became a Lutheran country under the King (or Queen) of Denmark as the titular head of the Danish National Church, (Danish: Folkekirke) the struggle between the power of the king and nobles and the church would define much of the course of Danish history.


Olav Tryggvasons saga - Haakon jarl 2 - C. Krohg
Haakon Jarl was given missionaries by the king of Denmark, but before departure, Haakon sent the missionaries back.

The first recorded attempts at spreading Christianity in Norway were made by King Haakon the Good in the tenth century, who was raised in England. His efforts were unpopular and were met with little success. The subsequent King Harald Greyhide, also a Christian, was known for destroying pagan temples but not for efforts to popularize Christianity.

He was followed by the staunchly pagan Haakon Sigurdsson Jarl, who led a revival of paganism with the rebuilding of temples. When Harold I of Denmark attempted to force Christianity upon him around 975, Haakon broke his allegiance to Denmark. A Danish invasion force was defeated at the battle of Hjörungavágr in 986.

In 995 Olaf Tryggvason became King Olaf I of Norway. Olaf had raided various European cities and fought in several wars. In 986, however, he (supposedly) met a Christian seer on the Isles of Scilly. As the seer foretold, Olaf was attacked by a group of mutineers upon returning to his ships. As soon as he had recovered from his wounds, he let himself be baptized. He then stopped raiding Christian cities and lived in England and Ireland. In 995 he used an opportunity to return to Norway. When he arrived, Haakon Jarl was already facing a revolt, and Olaf Tryggvason could convince the rebels to accept him as their king. Haakon Jarl was later betrayed and killed by his own slave, while he was hiding from the rebels in a pig sty.

Olaf I then made it his priority to convert the country to Christianity using all means at his disposal. By destroying temples and torturing and killing pagan resisters he succeeded in making every part of Norway at least nominally Christian.[24] Expanding his efforts to the Norse settlements in the west the kings' sagas credit him with Christianizing the Faroes, Orkney, Shetland, Iceland, and Greenland.

After Olaf's defeat at the Battle of Svolder in 1000 there was a partial relapse to paganism in Norway under the rule of the Jarls of Lade. In the following reign of Saint Olaf, pagan remnants were stamped out and Christianity entrenched.

Nicholas Breakspear, later Pope Adrian IV, visited Norway from 1152 to 1154. During his visit, he set out a church structure for Norway. The Papal bull confirming the establishment of a Norwegian archdiocese at Nidaros is dated November 30, 1154.[25]


Ansgarius predikar Christna läran i Sverige by Hugo Hamilton
Ansgar made an unsuccessful attempt as early as in the 830s.

The first known attempts to Christianize Sweden were made by Ansgar in 830, invited by the Swedish king Björn at Haugi. Setting up a church at Birka he met with little Swedish interest. A century later Unni, archbishop of Hamburg, made another unsuccessful attempt. In the 10th century English missionaries made inroads in Västergötland.

Adam of Bremen's historical treatise Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum mentions a pagan Temple at Uppsala in central Sweden.[26] "The reliability of Adam's description of the cult site at Gamla Uppsala has been seriously questioned."[27] Although Uppsala's status as a pre-Christian cultic center is well documented, Adam's account could not be confirmed by archaeological findings.[28] The "presumed cult buildings which have been excavated do not resemble Adam's description of a temple 'totally covered with gold."[29]

The supporters of the cult at Uppsala drew a mutual agreement of toleration[28] with Olof Skötkonung, the first Christian king of Sweden, who ascended to the throne in the 990s. Presumably Olof Skötkonung was not in a powerful enough position to violently enforce the observance of Christianity in Uppland.[30] Instead he established an episcopal see at Skara in Västergötland, near his own stronghold at Husaby around 1000.[30] Another episcopal see was established at Sigtuna in the 1060s[30] by King Stenkil, according to Adam of Bremen.[31] This seat was moved to Gamla Uppsala probably some time between 1134 and 1140.[31] This might have been because of Uppsala's importance as an old royal residence and thing site, but it may also have been inspired by a desire to show that the resistance to Christianity in Uppland had been defeated.[31] By papal initiative an archdiocese for Sweden was established at Uppsala in 1164.[31][32]

What may be one of the most violent occurrences between Christians and pagans was a conflict between Blot-Sweyn and Inge the Elder in the 1080s. This account survives in the Orkneyinga saga and in the last chapter of Hervarar saga where the saga successively moves from legendary history to historic Swedish events during the centuries before its compilation. The reigning king Inge decided to end the traditional pagan sacrifices at Uppsala which caused a public counter-reaction. Inge was forced into exile, and his brother-in-law Blot-Sweyn was elected king on condition that he allow the sacrifices to continue. After three years in exile, Inge returned secretly to Sweden in 1087, and having arrived at Old Uppsala, he surrounded the hall of Blot-Sweyn with his húskarls and set the hall on fire, slaying the king as he escaped from the burning house. Hervarar saga reports that Inge completed the Christianization of the Swedes, but the Heimskringla suggests that Inge could not assume power directly, but had to dispose of yet another pagan king, Eric of Good Harvests.[33]

According to M. G. Larsson, the reason why the Swedish core provinces had coexistence between paganism and Christianity throughout the 11th century was because there was a general support for the transition towards the new religion.[34] However, the old pagan rites were important and central for legal processes and when someone questioned ancient practices, many newly Christianized Swedes could react strongly in support of paganism for a while.[34] Larsson theorizes that, consequently, the vacillation between paganism and Christianity that is reported by the sagas and by Adam of Bremen was not very different from vacillations that appear in modern ideological shifts.[34] It would have been impossible for King Inge the Elder to rule as a Christian king without strong support from his subjects, and a Norwegian invasion of Västergötland by Magnus Barefoot put Inge's relationship with his subjects to the test: he appears to have mustered most of the Swedish leidang, 3,600 men, and he ousted the Norwegian occupation force.[35]

Although Sweden was officially Christianized by the 12th century, the Norwegian king Sigurd the Crusader undertook a crusade against Småland, the south-eastern part of the Swedish kingdom, in the early 12th century, and officially it was in order to convert the locals.


The Gutalagen (a Gotlandic law book from the 1220s) officially in use until 1595 but in practice until 1645, stated that performing blóts was punishable by a fine.[36]


On the northernmost runestone of the world standing on the island Frösön in central Jämtland, the Frösö Runestone, it is said that a man called Austmaðr Christianized the region, probably in the period 1030–1050 when the runestone was raised. Little is known of Austmaðr, but he is believed to have been the lawspeaker of the regional thing Jamtamót.

Other Nordic countries

The Scandinavian medieval kings also ruled over provinces outside of Scandinavia. These provinces are today known as the Nordic countries.

Faroe Islands

Sigmundur Brestisson was the first Faroe-man to convert to the Christian faith, bringing Christianity to the Faroes at the decree of Olaf Tryggvason. Initially Sigmundur sought to convert the islanders by reading the decree to the Alting in Tórshavn but was nearly killed by the resulting angry mob. He then changed his tactics, went with armed men to the residence of the chieftain Tróndur í Gøtu and broke in his house by night. He offered him the choice between accepting Christianity or face beheading; he chose the former. Later on, in 1005, Tróndur í Gøtu attacked Sigmundur by night at his yard in Skúvoy, whereupon Sigmundur fled by swimming to Sandvík on Suðuroy. He reached land in Sigmundargjógv in Sandvík, but a farmer in the village killed the exhausted Sigmundur and stole his precious golden arm ring.


Judging by archaeological finds, Christianity gained a foothold in Finland during the 11th century. The Catholic church was strengthened with growing Swedish influence in the 12th century and the Finnish "crusade" of Birger Jarl in the 13th century. Finland was part of Sweden since then until the 19th century.


Irish monks known as Papar are said to have been present in Iceland before its settlement by the Norse in the 9th century.

Following King Olaf I's taking of Icelandic hostages, there was tension between the Christian and pagan factions in 10th century Iceland. Violent clashes were avoided by the decision of the Althing in 1000 AD to put the arbitration between them to Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the leader of the pagan faction. He opted, after a day and a night of meditation, that the country should convert to Christianity as a whole, while pagan worship in private would continue to be tolerated.[37]

Motives for conversion

Some conversions appear to have taken place for political and material gain, as well as spiritual reasons. For instance, some may have simply wanted to take the rich gifts (such as a fine, white baptismal garment) that were being handed out by Frankish nobles, who acted as the baptismal candidates' sponsors, when they were baptized. In the case of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, for example, he only partially converted to the new faith (at least at first) to preserve his independence from the Germans, who posed an even greater threat at the time than the Franks had been prior to this. He also saw that Christianity had much to offer to his rule. It not only helped to exalt his status, but it also provided practical help. The Missionary bishops were literate, and those who had experience of the royal government in Germany or England had the potential to be valuable advisors.[38] There was also an economic motive to convert as pagan kings were fascinated with Christian wealth. As a result, some chose to accept the new faith as a way to gain access to this wealth.[39]

Last pagans

In 1721, a new Danish colony was started in Greenland with the objective of converting the inhabitants to Christianity. Around the same time efforts were made in Norway and Sweden to convert the Sami, who had remained pagan long after the conversion of their neighbours. The Sami religion is still practiced by some.

Research shows that Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden are currently among the least religious nations in the world; nevertheless, "many Danes and Swedes, for instance, will profess belief in 'something,' although not necessarily the God of the Bible." Phil Zuckerman writes in a 2009 article to the Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, "Surely the historical developments of culture and religion in Denmark and Sweden are crucially informing factors in explaining the current state of irreligiosity."[40]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kenneth Scott Latourette, A history of expansion of Christianity. Vol 2. The thousand years of uncertainty: AD 500–AD 1500 (1938) pp. 106–43.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Elena Melnikova, "How Christian Were Viking Christians?." Ruthenika, Suppl. 4 (2011) pp. 90–107
  7. ^ Schön 2004, 170
  8. ^ Schön 2004, 172
  9. ^ Schön 2004, 173
  10. ^ Sanmark 2004: 15
  11. ^ Sanmark 2004: 97
  12. ^ Latourette, A history of expansion of Christianity. Vol 2. The thousand years of uncertainty: AD 500–AD 1500 (1938) pp. 81–87.
  13. ^ Hvitfeldt, Arild. Danmarks Riges Krønike
  14. ^ a b "St Willibrord" Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913
  15. ^ Robinson, Charles (1915). The Conversion of Europe.
  16. ^ Rimbert, "Anskar: The Apostle of the North, 801–865", trans. C.H. Robinson in Carolingian Civilization: A Reader ed. Paul Edward Dutton (Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 2004), chap. 10
  17. ^ a b "Ancient See of Hamburg". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1913
  18. ^ Rimbert, "Anskar: The Apostle of the North, 801–865", trans. C.H. Robinson in Carolingian Civilization: A Reader ed. Paul Edward Dutton (Broadview Press, 2004), chap. 17.
  19. ^ "Danmark's Ældste Domkirke" Kristelig Dagblad 25 July 2007
  20. ^ a b Sanmark 2004: 107
  21. ^ a b c d Sanmark 2004: 81
  22. ^ Rimbert, The Life of Anskar (extract) Archived 2011-06-14 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Hvitfeldt, Arild. Danmarks riges Krønike
  24. ^ Dr. Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide, Enseignant-Chercheur, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Bergen. "The Christianization of Norway" (PDF).
  25. ^ Kaufhold 2001: 116
  26. ^ Kaufhold 2001, 85
  27. ^ Sanmark 2004: 163
  28. ^ a b Kaufhold 2001, 86
  29. ^ Sanmark 2004: 100
  30. ^ a b c Sanmark 2004: 85
  31. ^ a b c d Sanmark 2004: 109
  32. ^ Kaufhold 2001, 117
  33. ^ The epithet of this last king reflects one of the purposes of pre-Christian Germanic kingship, to promote harmony and good harvests, árs ok friðar.
  34. ^ a b c Larsson 2002, 160
  35. ^ Larsson 2002, 161
  36. ^ Gutalagen
  37. ^ Christianity Archived 2006-10-27 at the Wayback Machine, from a site on the Icelandic parliament.
  38. ^ Sawyer, Bright; Sawyer, Peter (1999). "Why Trust The White Christ?". Christian History. 18 (3): 22–25.
  39. ^ Fodor, Eugene (1983). Fodor’s Scandinavia. New York. p. 37.
  40. ^

Further reading

  • Berend, Nora. Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus' c. 900–1200 (2010).
  • Katajala-Peltomaa, Sari. "Fatherhood, Masculinity and Lived Religion in Late-Medieval Sweden." Scandinavian Journal of History 38.2 (2013): 223–44.
  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A history of expansion of Christianity. Vol 2. The thousand years of uncertainty: AD 500–AD 1500 (1938) pp. 106–43.
  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott.Christianity in a Revolutionary Age. A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. II: The Nineteenth Century in Europe, the Protestant and Eastern Churches (1959): pp. 131–96.
  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott. Christianity in a Revolutionary Age. A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IV: The Twentirth Century in Europe, the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Churches. (1961): 310–36
  • Melnikova, Elena. "How Christian Were Viking Christians?." Ruthenica, Suppl. 4 (2011). pp. 90–107; online; also online
  • Meylan, Nicolas. "Mana in the North: Power and Religion in Medieval Scandinavian Historiography," History of Religions (Nov 2016) 56#2 149–66. DOI: 10.1086/688215 online
  • Sanmark, Alexandra: Power and conversion: a comparative study of Christianization in Scandinavia; Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, Occasional papers in archaeology: 34; ISBN 91-506-1739-7 Also: Ph. D. Thesis, 2002 London, University College pdf bibliography pp. 297–317.
  • Winroth, Anders. The conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, merchants, and missionaries in the remaking of Northern Europe (Yale UP, 2012).

In other languages

  • Hoftun, Oddgeir (2008). Kristningsprosessens og herskermaktens ikonografi i nordisk middelalder, Oslo: Solum forlag. ISBN 978-82-560-1619-8 (in Norwegian)
  • Kaufhold, Martin (2001), Europas Norden im Mittelalter, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft ISBN 3-89678-418-8 (in German)
  • Larsson, M. G. (2002). Götarnas riken. Upptäcksfärder till Sveriges enande. Atlantis, Stockholm. ISBN 91-7486-641-9. (in Swedish)
  • Schön, Ebbe. (2004). Asa-Tors hammare, Gudar och jättar i tro och tradition. Fält & Hässler, Värnamo. ISBN 91-89660-41-2 (in Swedish)
Alu (runic)

The sequence alu (ᚨᛚᚢ) is found in numerous Elder Futhark runic inscriptions of Germanic Iron Age Scandinavia (and more rarely in early Anglo-Saxon England) between the 3rd and the 8th century. The word usually appears either alone (such as on the Elgesem runestone) or as part of an apparent formula (such as on the Lindholm "amulet" (DR 261) from Scania, Sweden). The symbols represent the runes Ansuz, Laguz, and Uruz. The origin and meaning of the word are matters of dispute, though a general agreement exists among scholars that the word represents an instance of historical runic magic or is a metaphor (or metonym) for it. It is the most common of the early runic charm words.The word disappears from runic inscriptions shortly after Migration Period, even before the Christianization of Scandinavia.

It may have lived on beyond this period with an increasing association with ale, appearing in stanzas 7 and 19 of the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál, compiled in the 13th century Poetic Edda, where knowledge of invocative "ale runes" (Old Norse ölrúnar) is imparted by the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa.

Theories have been suggested that the unique term ealuscerwen (possibly "pouring away of alu"), used to describe grief or terror in the epic poem Beowulf, recorded around the 9th to 11th century, may be directly related.

Anglo-Saxon mission

Anglo-Saxon missionaries were instrumental in the spread of Christianity in the Frankish Empire during the 8th century, continuing the work of Hiberno-Scottish missionaries which had been spreading Celtic Christianity across the Frankish Empire as well as in Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England itself during the 6th century (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity).The Anglo-Saxon mission began in the last decade of the 7th century in Old Saxony, when Saint Boniface urged monks to come to the continental missions, from which their forebears had come: "Take pity upon them, for they themselves are saying, 'We are of one blood and one bone with you.'" The missions, which drew down the energy and initiative of the English church, spread south and east from there. Almost immediately the Anglo-Saxon missionaries came in contact with the Pippinids, the new dominant family in Frankish territories.

Ecgberht of Ripon, who had studied in Ireland, began to organize Irish monks to proselytize in Frisia; many other high-born notables were associated with his work: Saint Adalbert, Saint Swithbert, and Saint Chad. He, however, was dissuaded from accompanying them himself by a vision related to him by a monk who had been a disciple of Saint Boisil (the Prior of Melrose under Abbot Eata). Ecgberht instead dispatched Wihtberht, another Englishman living at Rath Melsigi, to Frisia. Ecgberht then arranged the mission of Saint Wigbert, Willibrord, and others to the heathens.The earliest monastery founded by Anglo-Saxons on the continent is Willibrord's Abbey of Echternach (698), founded at a villa granted him by a daughter of Dagobert II. Pepin II, who wished to extend his influence in the Low Countries, granted free passage to Rome to Willibrord, to be consecrated Bishop of Frisia; Norman F. Cantor singles this out as the first joint project between Carolingians and the Papacy: "It set the pattern for their increasing association in the first half of the 8th century as a result of their joint support of the efforts of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries."Anglo-Saxon missionaries to the continent include Saints Wilfrid, Willibrord, Willehad, Lebuin, Liudger, Ewald and Suidbert.

Notable among these missionaries is Saint Boniface who was active in the area of Fulda (modern Hesse), establishing or re-establishing the bishoprics of Erfurt, Würzburg, Büraburg, as well as Eichstätt, Regensburg, Augsburg, Freising, Passau and Salzburg (739) further to the south-east.

Saint Walpurga (Walburga) and her brothers Saint Willibald and Saint Winibald assisted Boniface, Willibald founding the Heidenheim monastery.Anglo-Saxon missionary activities continued into the 770s and the reign of Charlemagne, the Anglo-Saxon Alcuin playing a major part in the Carolingian Renaissance. By 800, the Carolingian Empire was essentially Christianized, and further missionary activity, such as the Christianization of Scandinavia and the Baltic was coordinated directly from the Holy Roman Empire rather than from England.

In the judgement of J. R. R. Tolkien the Anglo-Saxon mission was "…one of the chief glories of ancient England, and one of our chief services to Europe even regarding all our history…."

Archdiocese of the Goths and the Northlands

The Archdiocese of the Goths and the Northlands is an Eastern Orthodox church affiliated with the Russian True Orthodox Church (also known as "catacombists", a splinter group not to be confused with the Russian Orthodox Church).

It was established in 1994 in Moscow by Aleksey Sievers, who was ordained archbishop under the name Amvrosij (Ambrosius).

It has been a registered ecclesiastical and religious body in Sweden since 2008.

Ambrosius ordained a "Bishop of Gotland" in Sweden, Teodorik Sutter, in December 2011.

It claims apostolic succession through the Russian True Orthodox Church, and territorial jurisdiction deriving from the Metropolitanate of Gothia and Kaphas, the church of the Crimean Goths in the Principality of Theodoro. The Metropolitanate of Gothia was under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch until 1783, when, subsequent to the Russian conquest of the Crimea, it was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. The bishop's chair was left vacant starting in 1786. The Archdiocese of the Goths also claims territorial jurisdiction of Götaland, Sweden, based on the history of the christianization of Scandinavia.

It also claims to be the earliest Church authority in Scandinavia, with presence preceding the Ansgar mission, allegedly with the (now-ruined) St Laurentius Church in the island of Gotland.According to Aleksey "Ambrosius" Sievers, Christianity came to the Goths as early as the mid-1st century by a missionary journey of Andrew the Apostle, long before their conversion to Arianism under the episcopate of Ulfilas. "The 'eastern' ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Västergötland, Östgötaland and in Gotland was so obvious to anyone at the time that even Rome sent its missionary bishop, Saint Ansgar, to Svealand where Christianity in comparison was relativelly weak at that time. It's fairly realistic to speak of Old Gothic (Byzantine) and Celtic (a little later Anglo-Saxon) influence in Sweden, instead of Roman [...]".These claims run counter to the general 20th-century consensus of historians, but there is some more recent research which seems to corrobate that Christianity may have been present in Sweden earlier than previously thought, from as early as the 8th or 9th century, via Byzantine transmission.

This supposed cultural contact reflects the Viking Age (9th-century) Swedish expansion eastward, establishing the so-called Rus' Khaganate on the margins of the Byzantine sphere of influence.

Arkils tingstad

Arkils tingstad ("Assembly location of Arkil") is the remains of the Viking Age thing or assembly location of a hundred in Uppland, Sweden. It is situated on the outskirts of Stockholm. The remains consist of a rectangular stone formation and two runestones.

The runestones and the assembly location were created by the Skålhamra clan who also had the two Risbyle Runestones made across the lake near their estate. It consequently appears that they owned land on both sides of the lake. They also made the runestone U 100 at a path in the forest.

Scholars disagree on the function of a Viking Age assembly location. According to one view, all the people in the vicinity assembled there in order to reach agreements and to mete out justice. Another view sees the assemblies as meetings for the chieftains only who merely stated what they had decided to do and where they interrogated and punished their subordinates.Before the Christianization of Scandinavia, the pagan blóts were performed by chieftains and magnates. When Christianity arrived, the Christian rites and especially baptism were central to the community. It is possible that the Skålhamra clan created the assembly location in order to have settlements around the lake baptized by priests from Sigtuna. The inscriptions suggest that the location had no continuity from Norse paganism.Based on the styles of the inscriptions, the assembly location was created in the 1010s, and the runestones are some decades older than the Jarlabanke runestone U 212 which tells of the creation of another assembly location.


The Dísablót was the blót (sacrificial holiday) which was held in honour of the female spirits or deities called dísir (and the Valkyries), from pre-historic times until the Christianization of Scandinavia. Its purpose was to enhance the coming harvest. It is mentioned in Hervarar saga, Víga-Glúms saga, Egils saga and the Heimskringla. The celebration still lives on in the form of an annual fair called the Disting in Uppsala, Sweden.

The Dísablót appears to have been held during Winter Nights, or at the vernal equinox. In one version of Hervarar saga, there is a description of how the sacrifice was performed. Alfhildr, the daughter of king Alfr of Alfheim, was kidnapped by Starkad Aludreng while she was reddening a horgr with blood.This suggests that the rite was performed by women, especially in light of what is generally believed to be their nearly exclusive role as priestesses of the pagan Germanic religion. However, according to the Ynglinga saga part of the Heimskringla, the king of Sweden performed the rites, which was in accordance with his role as high priest of the Temple at Uppsala. The mention of the Dísablót concerns the death of king Eadgils (Aðils, Adils) who died from falling off his horse while riding around the shrine:

In Sweden, the Dísablót was of central political and social importance. The festivities were held at the end of February or early March at Gamla Uppsala. It was held in conjunction with the great fair Disting and the great popular assembly called the Thing of all Swedes.The Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlusson, who was well-informed of Swedish matters and visited the country in 1219, explained in the Heimskringla (1225):

The shrine where the Dísir were worshiped was called dísarsalr and this building is mentioned in the Ynglinga saga concerning king Aðils' death. It also appears Hervarar saga, where a woman becomes so infuriated over the death of her father by the hands of Heiðrekr, her husband, that she hangs herself in the shrine.

The Scandinavian dísablót is associated with the Anglo-Saxon modranect ("mothers' night") by Gabriel Turville-Petre. The Anglo-Saxon month roughly equivalent to November was called blot-monath.

The number of references to the Disir ranging from the Merseburg Charms to many instances in Norse mythology indicate that they were considered vital deities to worship and that they were primary focus of prayers (e.g. the charms) for luck against enemies in war.

Gosforth Cross

The Gosforth Cross is a large stone Anglo-Saxon cross, in St Mary's churchyard at Gosforth in the English county of Cumbria, dating to the first half of the 10th century AD. Formerly part of the kingdom of Northumbria, the area was settled by Scandinavians some time in either the 9th or 10th century. It has gained reputation for its combination of Christian symbols with nordic symbols, being a tangible piece of evidence of the impact of the Christianization of Scandinavia.

Hercules' Club (amulet)

Hercules' Club (also Hercules-club, Club-of-Hercules; German Herkuleskeule, Donarkeule) is a Roman Empire and Migration era artefact type.

Roman era Hercules's Clubs appear from the 2nd to 3rd century, spread over the empire (including Roman Britain, c.f. Cool 1986), mostly made of gold, shaped like wooden clubs.

A specimen found in Köln-Nippes bears the inscription "DEO HER[culi]", confirming the association with Hercules. Indeed, already Tacitus mentions a special affinity of the Germans for Hercules, stating

they say that Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sing of him first of all heroes.There are two basic types, the smaller type (ca. 3 cm) cast in molds,

and the larger (ca. 5 cm) wrought from sheet metal. A type of bone pendants found in Iron Age (Biblical period) Palestine is also associated with the Club-of-Hercules jewelry of the Roman era (Platt 1978). A votive mace made of bronze found in Willingham Fen, Cambridgeshire in 1857 follows the Roman model in shape and the representation of wooden knobs on the club, but adding indigenous (Celtic) iconography by depicting animal heads, anthropomorphic figures and a wheel at the club's base.

In the 5th to 7th centuries, during the Germanic migration, the amulet type rapidly spreads from the Elbe Germanic area across Europe. These Germanic "Donar's Clubs" were made from deer antler, bone or wood, more rarely also from bronze or precious metals. They are found exclusively in female graves, apparently worn either as a belt pendant, or as an ear pendant.

The amulet type is replaced by the Viking Age Thor's hammer pendants in the course of the Christianization of Scandinavia from the 8th to 9th century.

History of Sweden (800–1521)

Swedish pre-history ends around 800 CE, when the Viking Age begins and written sources are available. The Viking Age lasted until the mid-11th century, when the Christianization of Scandinavia was largely completed when Sweden became the last Norse country to adopt Christianity. Scandinavia was formally Christianized by 1100 AD. The period 1050 to 1350 – when the Black Death struck Europe – is considered the Older Middle Ages. The Kalmar Union between the Scandinavian countries was established in 1397 and lasted until King Gustav Vasa ended it upon seizing power. The period 1350 to 1523 – when king Gustav Vasa, who led the unification of Sweden, was crowned – is considered the Younger Middle Ages.During this centuries, Sweden is considered to gradually have consolidated as a single nation.

Inferior (film)

Inferior is a project for an independent Swedish Viking film, announced in November 2013, written and directed by Peter Grimefjord and set to star Thomas Hedengran.The film is set in Jamtaland in 1088, at the time of the Christianization of Scandinavia. The protagonist is a pagan called Grim who is attacked and enslaved by a Christian leader called Joar. Haunted by the spirits of his dead family and by Odin, Grim is planning his revenge.

Mead hall

In ancient Scandinavia and Germanic Europe a mead hall or feasting hall was initially simply a large building with a single room. From the fifth century to early medieval times such a building was the residence of a lord and his retainers. The mead hall was generally the great hall of the king.

Medieval Scandinavian architecture

The major aspects of Medieval Scandinavian architecture are boathouses, religious buildings (before and after Christians arrived in the area), and general buildings (both in cities and outside of them).

Medieval Scandinavian law

Medieval Scandinavian law, also called North Germanic law, was a subset of Germanic law practiced by North Germanic peoples. It was originally memorized by lawspeakers, but after the end of the Viking Age they were committed to writing, mostly by Christian monks after the Christianization of Scandinavia. Initially they were geographically limited to minor jurisdictions (lögsögur), and the Bjarkey laws concerned various merchant towns, but later there were laws that applied to entire Scandinavian kingdoms. Each jurisdiction was governed by an assembly of free men, called a þing.

The court assembly, the thing, used the law and heard witnesses to rule whether the accused was guilty or not. There were usually two types of punishment: outlawing and fines. The most common means of justice were, however, fines; the amount varied, depending on the severity of the offense. This system was extremely intricate and the fines themselves, singularly a "mulct", were also varied according to the social status of the accused and/or the victim. Disputes of innocence were often solved by trial. These trials consisted of different tests for men and women. However, as long as the courts were not made aware of the crime, it could go unpunished or was settled outside of legal bounds by payment. There was no written code of law until after the Viking Age, but the code of fines, duels, and disavowing criminals was the standard across the Scandinavian world.

Norse mythology

Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Scandinavian folklore of the modern period. The northernmost extension of Germanic mythology, Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources from both before and after the pagan period, including medieval manuscripts, archaeological representations, and folk tradition.

Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts such as the hammer-wielding, humanity-protecting thunder-god Thor, who relentlessly fights his foes; the one-eyed, raven-flanked god Odin, who craftily pursues knowledge throughout the worlds and bestowed among humanity the runic alphabet; the beautiful, seiðr-working, feathered cloak-clad goddess Freya who rides to battle to choose among the slain; the vengeful, skiing goddess Skaði, who prefers the wolf howls of the winter mountains to the seashore; the powerful god Njörð, who may calm both sea and fire and grant wealth and land; the god Frey, whose weather and farming associations bring peace and pleasure to humanity; the goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant eternal youthfulness; the mysterious god Heimdall, who is born of nine mothers, can hear grass grow, has gold teeth, and possesses a resounding horn; the jötunn Loki, who brings tragedy to the gods by engineering the death of the goddess Frigg's beautiful son Baldr; and numerous other deities.

Most of the surviving mythology centres on the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as humanity and the jötnar, beings who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central tree, Yggdrasil. Units of time and elements of the cosmology are personified as deities or beings. Various forms of a creation myth are recounted, where the world is created from the flesh of the primordial being Ymir, and the first two humans are Ask and Embla. These worlds are foretold to be reborn after the events of Ragnarök when an immense battle occurs between the gods and their enemies, and the world is enveloped in flames, only to be reborn anew. There the surviving gods will meet, and the land will be fertile and green, and two humans will repopulate the world.

Norse mythology has been the subject of scholarly discourse since the 17th century when key texts were brought to the attention of the intellectual circles of Europe. By way of comparative mythology and historical linguistics, scholars have identified elements of Germanic mythology reaching as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology. In the modern period, the Romanticist Viking revival re-awoke an interest in the subject matter, and references to Norse mythology may now be found throughout modern popular culture. The myths have further been revived in a religious context among adherents of Germanic Neopaganism.

One Rode to Asa Bay

"One Rode to Asa Bay" is a song by Bathory about the Christianization of Scandinavia and appears on the 1990 album Hammerheart.

Cover versions of the song have been recorded by Opera IX and Mystic Circle.

Quorthon dedicated the song to C. Dean Andersson, who had earlier sent some of his books to Quorthon. The village's name in the song, Asa Bay, comes from pseudonym Asa Drake which Andersson used in some of his books.

Persecution of Germanic Pagans

The term Persecution of Germanic Pagans may be applied by some people to:

the Christianization of the Germanic peoples and the Christianization of Scandinavia

Suppression of esoteric groups in Nazi Germany, between 1880 and 1945, presenting Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Ariosophy, among others, against the influences of earlier European esotericism

Religious discrimination against Neopagans


In Old Norse, seiðr (sometimes anglicized as seidhr, seidh, seidr, seithr, seith, or seid) was a type of sorcery practiced in Norse society during the Late Scandinavian Iron Age. The practice of seiðr is believed to be a form of magic relating to both the telling and shaping of the future. Connected with Norse religion, its origins are largely unknown, although it became gradually eroded following the Christianization of Scandinavia. Accounts of seiðr later made it into sagas and other literary sources, while further evidence has been unearthed by archaeologists. Various scholars have debated the nature of seiðr, some arguing that it was shamanic in context, involving visionary journeys by its practitioners.

Seiðr practitioners were of both sexes, although females are more widely attested, with such sorceresses being variously known as vǫlur, seiðkonur and vísendakona. There were also accounts of male practitioners, known as seiðmenn, but in practising magic they brought a social taboo, known as ergi, on to themselves, and were sometimes persecuted as a result. In many cases these magical practitioners would have had assistants to aid them in their rituals.

In pre-Christian Norse mythology, seiðr was associated with both the god Oðinn, a deity who was simultaneously responsible for war, poetry and sorcery, and the goddess Freyja, a member of the Vanir who was believed to have taught the practice to the Æsir.In the 20th century, adherents of various modern pagan new religious movements adopted forms of magico-religious practice that include seiðr. The practices of these contemporary seiðr-workers have since been investigated by various academic researchers operating in the field of pagan studies.

Skaga stave church

Skaga stave church is a twice rebuilt medieval stave church in Tiveden, Karlsborg Municipality, Sweden. The original chapel was built in the 1130s during the Christianization of Scandinavia, but it was demolished in 1826 to combat persistent pagan practices in the area. The locals wanted their church back and worked for it to be rebuilt. In 1960, a reconstruction was inaugurated, but it burnt down in 2000. The following year, the church was rebuilt once again.

Younger Futhark

The Younger Futhark, also called Scandinavian runes, is a runic alphabet and a reduced form of the Elder Futhark, with only 16 characters, in use from about the 9th century, after a "transitional period" during the 7th and 8th centuries.

The reduction, somewhat paradoxically, happened at the same time as phonetic changes led to a greater number of different phonemes in the spoken language, when Proto-Norse evolved into Old Norse.

Thus, the language included distinct sounds and minimal pairs that were written the same.

The Younger Futhark is divided into long-branch (Danish) and short-twig (Swedish and Norwegian) runes; in the 10th century, it was further expanded by the "Hälsinge Runes" or staveless runes.

The lifetime of the Younger Futhark corresponds roughly to the Viking Age. Their use declined after the Christianization of Scandinavia; most writing in Scandinavia from the 12th century was in the Latin alphabet, but the runic scripts survived in marginal use in the form of the medieval runes (in use ca. 1100–1500) and the Latinised Dalecarlian runes (ca. 1500–1910).

Yule log

The Yule log, Yule clog, or Christmas block is a specially selected log burnt on a hearth as a Christmas tradition in a number of countries in Europe. The origin of the folk custom is unclear. Numerous scholars have observed that, like other traditions associated with Yule (such as the Yule boar), the custom may ultimately derive from Germanic paganism.

After the Christianization of Scandinavia, it may have been incorporated into the Christian celebration of Christmas there, with the pagan significance no longer remaining. However, as there are no reliable existing references to a Christmas log prior to the 16th century, the burning of the Christmas block may have been an early modern invention by Christians unrelated to the pagan practice.Regardless of its origin, for the Christian feast of Christmas, the yule log symbolizes the battle between good and evil: "as the fire grew brighter and burned hotter, and as the log turned into ashes, it symbolized Christ's final and ultimate triumph over sin."

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