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Christianity In Viking Age Scandinavia. Essay

2109 words - 8 pages

"The Church landed pen in hand, and as the North became part of the literate European Christian community its vitality was strangely sapped and the Viking Age came to an end"Although attributing the end of the Viking Age to the Christianization of the Scandinavian countries, as the above quote does, is almost certainly an exaggeration, there can be no doubt that it did bring radical changes to many areas. But why did these countries become Christian? This essay will avoid narrating individual missions and the coincidental political circumstances that led various Kings to convert. Instead it will focus on the general reasons that led people, and indeed entire communities, to adopt Christianity.It is clear that, long before the different Scandinavian countries became officially Christian, there was already a sizeable Christian population in each; in the words of Else Roesdahl: "some people were already Christians, and most had heard of the new faith". As far back as the time of the Roman Empire, there was frequent contact between Scandinavia and Christian areas of the Continent. All along, the sea-bound nature of the Scandinavian people meant that they were in contact with Christendom. Scandinavians were aware of the greatness of Christian-based Empires, both past and contemporary, such as the Roman and Carolingan Empires. Furthermore, as Ian Wood points out in relation to the contact between Denmark and Francia: "It is dangerous to draw too hard and fast a distinction between pagan Scandinavia, or rather Denmark, and the Christian empire of the Franks. There was plenty of mobility between the two societies and it is in the light of this mobility that Christianization is best considered".As a result of these contacts (firstly trading, then also raiding, and eventually colonisation) Scandinavians were well aware of the wealth and splendour of Christian Churches and objects. There were, of course, also precious objects and idols in the pagan societies, but these would have been far from equalling those contained in Christian Churches and monasteries. Furthermore, despite references to pagan "temples", it has been pointed out that a "temple": "need not have been a building". There were certainly structures with pagan ritual functions but archaeological evidence for these "suggests that they were built very late, in response to contact with Christians and their churches". The admiration of one pagan for Christianity can be seen in a very interesting passage from one of the Icelandic sagas, where a pagan tells a Christian how he is "of a different faith than yours, though I consider yours to be better than mine". So, well before the official Christianization of the Scandinavian countries, most people were already aware of Christianity and of the wealth of its buildings and precious objects, and indeed some pagans greatly admired Christianity and had even started to imitate Christian Churches.As well as discussing what Christianity offered people, it is...

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