Saturday, January 02, 2010

From Paganism to Christianity

Christianity and Church in the early Middle Ages I

Aggersborg Viking Fortification

It has been much discussed when the conversion of the Danes into Christianity took place, but the first missionary work was in the 820s. The pope authorized in 822 the archbishop of Reims Ebbo to preach the words of God among the heathen Danes. The next year Ebbo came to the foot of the Jutland peninsula where he performed christening "among many Danes". A few years later, probably in 826, the Danish king Harald (Klak) brought the missionary Ansgar to Denmark. Both were driven out of Denmark already in 827. Not until 845 succeeded Ansgar in being on friendly terms with the Danish king Horik. Ansgar was now bishop in Hamburg. King Horik allowed him to build a church in Haithabu, but Horik was overthrown in a feud in 854 and the church destroyed. It was re-opened in the 860s where Ansgar was allowed to build another church in the important trading town Ribe. Ansgar, the Apostel of the North, died in 865.

In the late 900s Christianity really began to spread among the Danes. As early as 948 three "Danish" bishops took part in a church meeting at the imperial castle Ingelheim. Liafdag of Ribe, Hared of Schleswig and Reginbrand of Århus were the three last out of 26 bishops, who signed a letter 7 June 948. Those three gentlemen have been described as marionettes for the Hamburg-Bremen archbishop Adaldag's desire to expand the church in Denmark, and it is doubtful if they really were connected to a church in the three cities mentioned. It is yet reasonable to believe that their starting point were missionary stations in or outside the banks of the three cities. In the trading cities the tolerant Nordic Asatru thrived well together with the less tolerant Christianity.

Trelleborg, model of a viking-house

In a letter issued in Magdeburg the German emperor Otto I exempted in 965 the churches in Schleswig, Ribe and Århus for all taxes. The letter specifies that it only applies to the church estate in "the mark and the kingdom of the Danes". When his successor Otto III about 30 years later in 988 confirms the privilege to Adaldag of Bremen is only mentioned "the kingdom of Denmark" (Regno Danorum); another church has been built in the kingdom, in Odins Borg (Odense). The years 965-988 coincide with Harald Bluetooth's ruling period and the imperial letters are indirectly, but strong evidence that Harald in the intervening period spread his power to most of Denmark. His means were Christianity and fortifaction castles. The so-called Trelleborge (Aggersborg, Fyrkat, Nonnebakken and Trelleborg) were formed with a great technical knowledge as mighty circular plans with the cross as the geometric pivotal point. Harald's proud inscription upon the Jelling stone are not empty words. The Danes did not become Christian all at once, because Harald showed the way; but it is remarkable that Harald was not buried in the starting point Jelling, but in the newly won Zealand at Roskilde. The Jelling stone was an evidence that something new and permanet was on the way, and no one in the next generations' fights between paganism and Christianity dared to destroy Harald's stony manifesto: "Danmarks dåbsattest."

Source: Niels Peter Stilling, Danmarks Kirker,2000

From Wood to Stone.

photo: grethe bachmann

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