The Origins of Christianity in Northern Europe

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Christianization of Poland A.D. 966. by Jan Matejko

Missionary activity was one of the main reasons why Christianity spreaded from out of the land of Israel into the European world. It was stated in “the Great Commission” and became an all important principle to spread the words of the savior Jesus Christ. The Christian theology, thus, put forth strong importance on evangelism, baptism and work done by the missionaries. But in order for Christianity to replace the old ways of belief without the use of war or violence; how would that be so during the times of the Dark Ages in Northern Europe?

Christianity in Northern Europe

Before Christianity was to suggest itself in Northern Europe, the people had to be open to accepting the word of God and Jesus Christ as their savior. This was not going to be done with ease; for many Northern Europeans believed in mythologies revolving around gods and goddesses.

One prime example of pagan belief opposite of that of Christians was German paganism frequently spreaded by the Vikings. It existed in various parts of Europe, were blended with what willed man into existence, the downfall of mankind and the famous combat between the opposing forces of good vs. evil. In addition to that, man’s redemption in Germanic paganism did not differ from what was in Christian and Jewish Biblical canons.

In places like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Scandinavia, trying to replace Odin with Jehovah and Valhalla with Heaven would indeed need an act of God. Their systems of paganistic beliefs were syntagamatic in structure. It was reflective in the rituals performed from their myths and can be compared to the rituals observed by Jews with Passover, Easter with Christians and the Hajj with Muslims. This was why monasteries were set up all over Europe. A place of worship was a unique idea to spread Christian identity as it acted as a symbol, and the missionaries were the spiritual guides.

Ebbo, Haligar and Bremen

One of the most important monks to influence the spread of Christianizing Northern Europe was archbishop of Rheims Ebbo, also known as Ebo (775-851ce). He along with Haligar, bishop of Cambrai and Willerich, bishop of Bremen would go to Denmark to convert pagans. They were not successful. In Denmark, King Horik did not trust any belief, especially one which was foreign such as Christianity which intimidated Danish beliefs.

King Horik would reign in Denmark from 827-854ce and expelled co-king Harald Klak due to him accepting Christianity. This would cause the exiled co-king to seek help from Emperor Louis I of Germany in order to recapture lands lost in Jutland. The emperor would agree to help Harald Klak.

When Harald got back to Jutland, he was turned away again. This event was one of the reasons why Ansgar would attempt the Christianizing of Swedes in 830ce. Christianization would be slow to reach the Swedes, but it would have a friend in Sigrid the Haughty. He would succeed his father, Eric the Victorious, in 995ce and become the first baptized Swedish Christian King in 1008 ce. After this, Christianity would reign totally over Europe.

Source:

  1. Woodhead, Linda (2004). Christianity: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192803220