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Strategy, O rganization and the C ourse of Events
O ne of the most elusive topics in the study of Norwegian medieval history is its 1 Christianization. Earlier research on the subject was often heavily ideologized by a nationalistic bias, as well as by Lutheran and Marxist anti-Catholic attitudes. More recent research is somewhat relieved from this ideological bias. However, presentday scholars wrestle with the vast com plexity of this topic, and the close interrelationship between Christianization and the other major changes in Norwegian society that took place around the turn of the millennium. In Norway, Christianization took place at a crucial stage in the period of the fundamental transition of tribal societie s into a kingdom. To get a better grasp of the problems associated with C hristianization, it is best first to subdivide the subject up into smaller themes, and then to deal with each separately. This approach has been successfully applied, especially in the last 2 decade, by several scholars. In this paper, I follow this line of research,
D agfinn Skre, born 1954, DPhil. Førsteamanuensis, is presently doing research on the Christianization of Scandinavia and trade and ports in the Viking A ge in the Department of Nordic Archaeology, Institute of A rchaeology, Numismatics and H istory of Arts, University of Oslo. His important publications include “H erred øm m et. Bosetning og besittelse pa Ê R om erike 200– 1350 e. K r.”, Acta Humaniora, nr. 32 (Oslo, 1998) . Address: University of Oslo, Frederiksgt. 3, N-0164 Oslo, Norway.
Early versions of this pap er were presented 22 April 1996 at M iddelaldersenteret, University of O slo, and at a conference in Levanger 25 April 1996. T he latter is published as D . Skre, “M isjon svirksomhet i praksis – organ isasjon og m a l”, Kultursamanhengar i M idt-Norden, D et K ongelige Ê N orske Videnskabers Selskab Skrifter, nr 1 (Trondheim , 1997). The paper has been revised as a result of com m ents received on both occasions, and as a result of further research. English revised by D r. R oger Grace, University of O slo. For examp le, H . von Achen, “D en tidlige m iddelalderens krusifikser i Skandinavia. H vitekrist som ´ en ny og større O din”, M øtet m ellom hedendom og kristendom i Norge, edited by H .-E . Lid e n (Oslo, 1995); C . Krag, “Kirkens forkynnelse i tidlig m id delalder og nordmennenes kristendom ”, in the sam e volum e; D. Skre, “Kirken før sognet. Den tidligste kirkeordningen i N orge”, in the sam e volum e; G. Steinsland, “H vordan ble hedendom m en utfordret og pa virket av kristendom m en?”, in the sam e Ê volum e; G. Steinsland, “R eligion sskiftet i Norden – et dram atisk ideologiskifte”, M edeltidens fo delse, ¨ ´ ´ edited by A. Andre n (Lund, 1989); H .-E . Lide n, “From pagan sanctuary to C hristian C hurch. T he excavation of M ære Church in T røndelag. Com m ents. Rep ly to com m ents”, Norwegian Archaeological Review, Vol. 2 (1969); P. M eulengracht Sørensen, “H a kon den God e og gud erne. N ogle Ê bem ærkninger om religion og centralmagt i det tiende a rhundre – og om religion og kildekritik”, Ê H øvdingesamfund og kongemagt. Fra stam m e til stat i D anm ark, bd. 2. Jysk Arkæologisk Selskabs Skrifter Ê ¨ 22:2, edited by P. M orten sen and B. M . Rasm ussen (A rhus, 1991); I. H . V. M u ller, “Fra ættefellesskap til sogn efellesskap. O m overgan gen fra hedensk til kristen gravskikk”, Nordisk ¨ H edendom. Et symposium, edited by G. Steinsland, U. D robin, J. Pentika inen and P. M eulengracht Sørensen (Odense, 1991). Scand. J. H istory 23
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investigating the missiona ry activity of the Church. I hope to demonstrate that focu sing on the activity of the C hurch itself will make it easier to distinguish several other aspects of the com plex process of C hristianization. In analysing this complex matter it is necessary to make a distinction between the two concep ts “Christianization” and “conversion”, and this is the subject which I confron t first, while also sketching the main characteristics of Christian influence in the period before the missionaries arrived in Norway. The second subject treated is the Church’s vast experience in missionary work in the centuries preceding its establishm ent in Norway. The Church, which started its work in Norway in the 10th century, had for several centuries undertaken missiona ry ventures among the G ermanic tribes. Missionary work in Norway was based on this extensive experience, both in its strategy and organization. The third section concentrates on the period of conversion, examining the evidence indicating that missiona ry work was taking place at that time, and reviewing the main events in the process of conversion. The relative importance of the different participants in the conversion, the missiona ries, the kings, and the aristocracy, is assessed. So are two theories on the political role of the conversion: that the kings used conve rsion strategically to undermine the authority of the old aristocracy, and that their main motive for facilitating the conversion was to overcom e the problems of ruling a religiously heterogeneous kingdom . In the final section I will focu s upon the organization of the missionaries and the early Church.
1. Christianization and conversion For several hundred years before the men of the C hurch appeared among the Norse, the nearest Christian societies were found 500– 600 km either to the south or west of the coast of southern Norway. Through travels to the Christianized areas, the Nordic peoples had becom e acquainted with the C hristian faith, and with the religious practices of the C hristians. In som e smaller segments of the population, this familiarity with Christianity must have started as early as the 5th century, as military bands from the north raided and plundered the Christianized areas, and occa sionally served in the armies of Christian kings and nobles. Long -lasting friendly contacts were established between aristocratic families, and both goods and marriage partners were exchanged between the Norse and the Christianized regions. The Viking Age is often portrayed as the period when the Nordic peoples broke out of their cultural isolation, but this is inaccurate: the aristocratic segment of the Norse population was well acquainted with the English and C ontinental 3 cultures from the days of the Rom an Empire onwards. O ne of the institutions they had becom e acquainted with was the Christian Church.
See, for exam ple, G. Rausin g, “Barbarian m ercenaries or R om an citizens?”, Fornvannen, Vol. 82 ¨ (1987); M . Axboe, “Guld og guder i folkevandringstid en. Brakteaterne som kilde til politisk/religiø se forhold”, Samfundsorganisation og Regional Variation. Norden i romersk jernalder og folkevandringstid, Jysk Ê Arkæologisk Selskabs Skrifter, Vol. 27, edited by C. Fabech and J. R ingtved (A rhus, 1991); L. H edeager and H . T varnø, Romerne og G ermanerne, Det europæiske hus, V ol. 2 (København, 1991); B. M yhre, “Rogalan d forut for H afrsfjordslaget”, Rikssamlingen og Harald Ha rfagre. Historisk seminar pa Ê Ê Karmøy 10 og 11 juni 1993 (K arm øy, 1994).
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M issionary Activity in E arly M edieval N orw ay
The first phase of the long process of C hristianization was familiarization with the Church and Christian practices. At this early stage, Christianity was not adopted by the Norse, but evidence indicates that their own cult was influenced by it. In the 6th century, there was a new development in the pagan cult in Scandinavia, as the cult no longer seems to have been a com mon affair for all free men. It was now much more closely attached to the aristocratic families, their farms, and the central occasion s in an aristocrat’s life, like birth, marriage and 4 death. This development may very well have been inspired by the close connection between the nobles and the Church in the C hristian Merovingian Empire. At this time, several Merovingian nobles founded monasteries on their estates, and 5 established close personal ties to the clerics. This development and the strength gained from the alliance between worldly and secular power were, of course, observed by their friends from the north. Their own cult seems to have changed as a result of this influence. O n this basis, the earliest influences of Christianity on the Norse can be said to have started in the later Migration Period, that is, the 6th century. However, at this early stage, familiarity with C hristianity was certainly confined to a small segment of the population, and its influence to certain aspects of the pagan cult. Through the centuries contact gradually increased, and in the Viking Age, that is, the 9th, 10th and early 11th centuries, most of the Norse population had heard of this religion found in the south and the west, of their single G od, and of their magnificent churches and monasteries. The process of Christianization continu ed until some time around the end of the 11th century, at which time the Christian faith and concep tion of man prevailed in the cosm ology and lives of the Norwegian population. By that time, a few generations had been brought up in a society practising the C hristian religion, they knew the basic prayers, and they had learned to understand and participate in the mass. This 500-year-long process of C hristianization was anything but a steady and continu ous process. There was a decisive change when groups within Norwegian society actually began practising the new religion. As I will discuss in a mom ent, this change seems to have started some time around the middle or in the first half of the 10th century, and continued through the first three decades of the 11th century. There is, I will argue, a possibility that the process started as early as the late 9th century. This is the time of the conversion, when pagan practice was gradually abandoned, and ultimately forbidden by law. In the Norse tongue the conversion is called sidarskipti, or “the change of custom, or usage”. In this period, self-awareness in Norse society changed from essentially pagan to predominantly C hristian. The Christian faith was no longer alien and vaguely familiar, but had become the very fundament of religious practice for an increasingly large portion of Norwegian society.
C . Fab ech, “Sam fundsorganisation , religiøse cerem onier og regiona l variatio n”, Samfundsorganisation og Regional Variation. Norden i romersk jernalder og folkevandringstid, Jysk Arkæologisk Selskabs Skrifter, Vol. Ê 27, edited by C. Fab ech and J. Ringtved (A rhus, 1991). J. M . W allace-H ad rill, The Frankish Church (Oxford, 1983), pp. 55–60. Scand. J. H istory 23
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W hat then is the relationship between my main interest in this paper, missiona ry activity, and these two processes, the long Christianization and the more rapid conversion? Familiarity with the Christian religion gained before the conversion was a com ponent in a more general cultural exchange between Norse and Christian societies. This early C hristianization did not require the efforts of missiona ries to take place. But when groups in Norse society started abandoning pagan practices, and instead began to baptise their children and bury their dead according to the Christian rites, clerics had to be present. Their more or less regular ministry is necessary for a population to be able to practice a Christian way of life. This means that when the conversion of the Norse first began, when groups in society first abandoned the pagan cult and acquired the Christian one, missionaries were working more or less permanently among them. The efforts of the clerics must be characterized as missionary work until the process of C hristianization was com pleted, which, as I mentioned, occu rred by the end of the 11th century.
2. T he missionary strategy of the Early M edieval Church In Antiquity, the Church was an institution “of and for” the Romans. Missiona ry work in an alien culture such as the Germanic tribes was unthinkable. C hristianity was for the civilized , and the civilized were the Romans. But when the Rom an Empire collapsed, and Germanic tribes invaded its territories, the C hurch had to 6 adapt to radically new conditions, and to cultural and political heterogeneity. The dependence of the Church on Rom an culture was replaced by the conviction that all men, regardless of their culture and way of life, should be Christian. C onsequently, Christendom expanded to include the G ermanic areas, particularly in the Carolingian period. The overall strategy of the C hurch was sim ple: to enable the missionaries to work in a secure environment, they needed the support of sym pathetic rulers. So, in the initial phase, priests and monks attempted to convert the powerful, kings and noblemen. W hen this was accom plished, the conversion of the whole society began, by introducing new laws and regulations, 7 and by teaching and caring for the population. In som e instances the pow erful were made to accept the new faith by force. This was, for instance, the case with the Avars and Saxons, who fell victim s of the Carolingian expansion, and were subsequently converted. Most Christian writers applauded this approach, and held that paganism deserved no other treatment than force by the sword. But it was also recognized that this kind of conversion did not create the best situation for inner acceptance of the faith, which was the ultimate 8 goal of the missionaries.
6 7 8
J. M . W allace-H ad rill, op . cit., p. 143. J. M . W allace-H ad rill, op . cit., p. 24. R . E. Sullivan, “C arolingian m issionary theories”, The Catholic H istorical Review, Vol. 42, (1956), pp. 277– 278.
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In cases of forced conversion, the missionaries started their work by teaching the 9 fundamental truths of the Christian faith. But missionary ventures were also undertaken by small groups of missiona ries travelling into pagan lands. These missiona ries had to take a different approach. In order to persuade the powerful kings and noblemen to accept the new religion, the Church had to present a God and a faith which were acceptable to the kings and princes, to their warrior aristocracy, and to the general population. Furthermore, the presentation of Christianity had to be carried out in such a way as to ease the change, which had to be as unnoticeable as possible. Neither the kings nor the aristocracy wanted an overt change, and they were definitely not interested in any religious revolution. This would only have reduced confid ence in the aristocracy, and increased the possibility of social upheaval. The Church had to present the new G od as being much the same as the old ones, only better. O ne of the central elements in G ermanic pagan religion was that the noblemen, and in particular the king, were the descendants of the gods. They had a share in the divinity, and the king was a mediator between the world of men and the world of gods. This position was a central feature in the authority of the king and his men, 10 and in the pagan cosm ology. It would have been impossible for the Church to present a faith where the aristocracy was robbed of this divine authority. The Church adapted to these conditions by portraying the powerful, the aristocracy and the kings, as God’s closest friends. As political leaders, they were in the position to pay tribute to God by converting pagans, giving land to the Church, building churches, and giving his men, the clerics, the opportunity to work for G od’s cause. This made them G od’s friends, and therefore liable to receive the most generous gifts in return. In the fully developed version of the C hristian ideology on kings, the king was given the position of rex iustus and God’s anointed. He was king by the grace of G od, the prime secular servant of God on earth. He had a specific and exclusive task bestowed on him by God: to promote G od’s cause 11 on earth through his pow er.
R . E. Sullivan, op . cit., p. 279. See H . W olfram, Die Goten. Von den Anfa ngen bis zur M itte des sechsten Jahrhunderts. Entwurf einer historischen ¨ ¨ Ethnographie, Dritte neub earbeit ete Auflage (Mu nchen, 1990), p. 42 and pp. 114– 116 on the Goths; ¨ N . Staub ach, “Germ anisches K o nigtu m und latein ische Literatur vom fu nften bis zum sieb ten ¨ Jahrhundert”, Fru hmittelalterliche Studien, bd. 17 (1983), and J. M . W allace-H adrill, op . cit., p. 33 and ¨ p. 35 on M erovingian kings and nob les; H . R. Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest (London, 1962), p. 230 and D . N. Dum ville, “Kingship, genealogies and regnal lists”, Early M edieval Kingship, edited by P. H . Sawyer and I. N . W ood (Leeds, 1977), pp. 77–79 on Anglo-Saxon kings claim ing descent from W oden; J. W erner, Das Aufkomm en von Bild und Schrift im Nordeuropa, Bayerische Akad em ie der W issenschaften. Sitzungsberichte. Philos.-hist. Kl. no. 4, (Mu nchen, 1966) and G. ¨ ´ ´ D ume zil, L’ideologie tripartie des Indo-Europe ens (Brussels, 1959) m ore generally on the topic. C on¨ cerning Scandinavia, see: F. Stro m , Diser, nornor, valkyrjor. Fruktbarhetskult och sakralt kungado me i Norden ¨ (Stockholm , 1954); G. Steinsland, “De nordiske gullblekk med parm otiv og norrøn fyrsteideologi” , Collegium M edievale, nr 3 (1990/ 1); G. S tein sland, Det hellige bryllup og norrøn kongeideologi. En analyse av õ ´ ´ ´ hierogami-myten i Sk´rnisma l, Ynglingatal, H a leygjatal og H yndluljo d (Oslo, 1991); C. Fabech, op. cit.; J. P. Schjødt, “Fyrsteideologi og religion i vikingetiden”, M ammen. Grav, kunst og samfund i vikingtid, Jysk Ê ¨ arkæologisk selskabs skrifter no. 28, edited by M . Iversen, U . Na sman and J. V ellev (A rhus, 1991); L. H edeager , “M yter og m ateriell kultur: D en nordiske oprindelsesmyte i det tidlige kristne Europa”, TOR, Vol. 28 (1996). J. M . W allace-H ad rill, op . cit., p. 33; S. Bagge, From Gangleader to the L ord’s A nointed (Odense, 1996). Scand. J. H istory 23
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The road to conversion was smoothed by the missionaries’ giving the aristocracy this privileged position in relation to G od, a position almost identical to the one they had previously held. But the clerics were also faced with the task of proving the new faith to be better than the old one. The methods used to convince the kings and magnates were to demonstrate the luck and good fortune enjoyed by followers of C hrist, and to point out the logical inconsistencies in the pagan faith. The priests assured the powerful that God would protect his own, and that he would grant victory on the battlefield to his powerful servants. This was demonstrated on several occa sions, such as when the still-pagan Merovingian king, Clovis, was close to losing the battle against the Alamans at Tolbiac. He called upon the Christian G od for protection, and im mediately, potential defeat turned into victory. Shortly thereafter, Clovis was baptised. The intellectual superiority of the Christian faith was demonstrated to the pagan nobles in debates, som e of which were recorded in the sources. The missionaries were specifically taught how to conduct debates with the pagans on the power of 12 their gods and the consistency of their faith. O ne example is the letter from Bishop Daniel of W inchester, which advises Bonifatius on how to argue against the pagan faith on his mission to Germany in 723– 724. The bishop counsels him not to question the descent of the pagan gods, nor the belief that they were born as a result of mating between man and woman. Rather, he should argue that gods born in this way could not be true gods. If the pagan gods were able to mate, they were men, not gods, Daniel writes. And how could these gods, with their human disposition and needs, exist before the world was made? And if the world has always been there, who ruled the world before the gods were born, and from whose womb were the first gods born? And if their gods are almighty, why do they not punish the Christians, who argue against their existence and destroy their idols? And why are the Christians in the possession of the most fertile and rich regions of the world, 13 plentiful in oil and wine, while the pagans live in the cold and hostile lands? The priests and monks usually had an easy time in these intellectual battles. As the main elements in the pagan G ermanic religions were myths and rituals, they lacked the developed theological understanding which is a hallmark of C hristianity. The Church housed a large corps of professionals who were familiar with the extensive intellectual legacy from Antiquity, and solely occu pied with the intellectual refinement of the faith. After the conve rsion of the powerful, the C hurch could start to establish itself in the newly converted areas. This involve d teaching and preaching to the masses, with the intent of obtaining the inner acceptance of the Christian faith. At this stage, when the pagan custom s, which for centuries had satisfied the regular needs of the population, were forbidden and abandoned, the new religion had to find ways to satisfy the religious needs of the population. These needs included
R . E. Sullivan, op . cit., pp. 274–276. T he letter is printed in Briefe des Bonifatius. W ilibalds L eben des Bonifatius. Nebst einigen zeitgenossischen ¨ ¨ Dokumenten, Ausgew a hlte Q uellen zur deutschen Geschichte des M ittelalters, Vol. 4, edited by R. R au (Darm stadt, 1968), pp. 78–85 (Latin with a Germ an translation); and in C . Krag, op. cit., pp. 51–57 (Latin with a Norwegian translation).
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protecting against evil and illness and ensuring the well-being of descendants and ancestors. These needs were fulfilled through the teachings and rituals of the Church, through liturgy, sacraments, prayers, and pastoral work. The main strategy in this phase was probably to avoid changes in the religious forms and, whenever possible, to fill the old forms with new, Christian content. It was new wine in old bottles, if the old ones could do the trick.
3. Conversion and m issiona ries in Norway c. 900–1030 AD This strategy was also applied in the conversion of Norway, which can be divided into two phases. The first phase is the time of the brave and fearless monks. These men may have followed converted magnates home from ventures in C hristian regions. O thers may, like Ansgar on his venture to Birka in 829, have travelled into the lands of the pagans, sought out their leaders, worked on their conversion, and tried to gain their permission to set up churches and work in their territories. In Norway, the missionary work was, over a substantial part of this period, supported Ê by the Christian king Ha kon Adalsteinsfostre (c. 935– 961). But his power was limited, and he did not possess the political strength to bring about a general conversion. Therefore, the success and survival of the missionaries throughout this period depended on their success in converting the local aristocracy. The general conversion of Norwegian society was com pleted in the second phase. This was the time of the Christian kings who, in the sagas, are given the credit for changing the society’s self-perception by implementing laws forbidding pagan custom s and enforcing Christian practices. In Norway, the two most im portant of these kings were O lav Trygvasson and O lav Haraldsson. It is probably justifiable to consider the return of Olav Trygvasson to Norway in the year 995 a decisive event in the conversion of Norway. But this was not the initial event. There is som e written evidence of earlier missiona ry activity in Norway, with the earliest recordings concerning the west Ê coast. Several sagas record that king Ha kon Adalsteinsfostre, who returned from England som e time in the 930s, sent for priests once he had established himself as king. He had churches erected and priests installed in the northwest. Later, these 14 churches were burned down and the priests were killed by the pagans. Also concerning the west coast, there are recordings of the legend of the C hristian princess Sunniva who died as a martyr as pagans approached the cave where she hid. This may be a local version of an Irish legend, but the root of the legend may also be in the fact that Irish hermits had found their way in small boats to the outer Norwegian west coast, just as they found their way to other remote places to the north and east of Ireland. Such hermits may have been working as missionaries in the area. There is also written evidence of missionaries working on the southeast coast in the later half of the 10th century. Three bishops of the Danish town of Ribe are said to have sent men of the cloth to Norway on several occa sions in the second half of
W ritten sources describing this and the following incident are listed in P. S. Andersen, Samlingen av Norge og kristningen av landet 800–1130 (Oslo, 1977), pp. 189– 190. Scand. J. H istory 23
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Ê the 10th century. Snorre relates that king Harald Bla tann of Denmark sent missiona ries to the same area, called Viken, where he claimed authority. Snorre writes that “many were baptised”. Furthermore, the G erman Emperor, O tto II, is said to have sent two “earls” to this area in the 970s, where they worked as missiona ries. It is difficu lt from the written record alone to assess the degree of success the missiona ries of the 10th century enjoyed in their proselytizing. The majority of the sources were written long after the events took place. They mention the missiona ries only briefly, and lack reliable inform ation about the duration and results of the missionary work. W e must turn to other forms of evidence to gain a firmer understanding of this early phase in the missionaries’ efforts. Som e evidence can be derived from the archaeological record. I will consider this evidence in light of the distinction made earlier between the general process of Christianization and the conversion. The Norse gained knowledge of Christian practice and faith during their travels, and the im pact of this influence can be observed in various changes in the form of and equipment in pagan graves from the 9th and 10th centuries. During this period, the number of cremations drops, and the number of inhumations increases. G rave goods are often limited to personal equipment attached to the clothing, such as weapons or brooches. Items like pots, pans and tools now appear less frequently in the graves. This can be explained as a reflection of the influence of C hristian burial practices, especially as these changes are particularly evident in the ports of 15 trade from this period, like Birka in central Sweden, and Kaupang in Vestfold. But this is not the type of evidence that can be used to deduce that conversion to the C hristian faith had taken place, or that missionaries were working in the population. The changes observed in pagan burial practices are but one component of a more general cultural influence, whereby Christian beliefs and custom s may have been transformed and included in pagan practices. Although they do not necessarily indicate conversion, these changes are important elements in the history of the C hristianization, as they indicate a familiarity with C hristian practises. Indications of a fundamental conversion would be a total abandonm ent of pagan burial practices, at least in a portion of the population. W hen changes of this kind occu r, the process of conversion has begun, and we may be certain that missionaries were successfully working within the population, teaching and preaching, and administering funerals according to Christian practices. I will now turn to the main evidence indicating that such a change was in fact taking place. In Trøndelag and in the hinterland of eastern Norway, pagan burial practices were totally upheld until the very last decades of the 10th century, and in som e
E. S. Engelstad , “H ed enskap og Kristendom I. Sen vikingtid i innlandsbygdene i Norge”, Bergen M useums Aarbok, 1927. H istorisk-antikvarisk række, nr 1 (Bergen , 1928); E. S. Engelstad, “H ed enskap og K ristendom II. T rekk av vikingetiden s kultur i Ø stnorge”, Universitetets Oldsaksam lings Skrifter, Vol. 2 ¨ (Oslo, 1929); A.-S. Gra slund, “D en tidiga m issionen i arkeologisk belysning – problem och ¨ synpunkter”, TOR, Vol. 20 (1980), pp. 83– 85; A.-S. Gra slund, Birka IV. The Burial Customs (Stockholm , 1985), p. 301; C . Blindheim and B. H eyerd ahl-Larsen, Kaupang-funnene, Vol. 2. Gravplassene i Bikjholbergene/Lamøya. Undersøkelsene 1950– 1957. D el A. Gravskikk, Norske Oldfunn, V ol. 16 (Oslo, 1995), p. 134.
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areas into the 11th. But on the southeastern coast of Norway, in Agder, Vestfold and Ø stfold, there is a dramatic fall in the number of pagan graves in the last half of 17 the 10th century com pared to the preceding decades. This reduction may very well be due to a large portion of the population in these coastal areas being put to rest in accordance with C hristian practices. Further indications as to early conversions in large numbers in the O slo fjord area com es from the discovery of a Christian graveyard dating back to the last part of the 10th century, which was 18 excavated beneath the Church of St. C lement in O slo. In som e regions on the west coast, such as Rogaland and Sunnmøre, the number of pagan graves also drops dramatically around the middle of the 10th century, 19 indicating a conversion to Christian burial practice. This evidence is supported by the recent discovery of a C hristian graveyard from this period at Veøy on the northwest coast of Norway. Radiocarbon dating from the coffins indicates that the oldest graves were no younger than the mid-10th century, and that they may even 20 be from the beginning of the century. The archaeological and written evidence indicating successful missionary activity from the middle of the 10th century, and on the west coast perhaps even earlier, is further supported by the existence of stone crosses. In total, there are 60 raised stones shaped as a cross or marked with one, the vast majority of which are found on the west coast. Half of them were probably erected during the 11th century, but the rest date from the 10th and the very latest part of the 9th century. Many of these crosses were erected in pagan graveyards, probably to consecrate them. Consecration of the graveyard, from the point of view of the monks and priests, must have been a precondition for the performance of Christian burials there. Furthermore, it can be suggested that consecra tion also eased conversion by 21 including the graves of pagan ancestors in the new Christian community. O ne should also consid er the possibility of substantial Christian influence in western Norway in the late 9th century. Norse settlement in C hristian areas in Ireland, Scotland and northern England started around the mid-9th century. These areas were mainly settled from western Norway. The sources on the conversion of the settlers indicate that som e kept their pagan customs well into the 10th century, while others converted within a generation or so. The Vikings were involved in internal politics in the settled areas, and their interaction with the local population
18 19 20 21
J. S chreiner, Saga og Oldfunn. Studier i Norges eldste historie, Skrifter utgitt av Det N orske VidenskapsAkad em i i O slo, 1927, H istorisk-Filosofisk klasse, no. 4 (Oslo, 1928), tab les II, III, IV , V, XIV, X V; E. S. Engelstad , op . cit., “H eden skap og Kristendom I”, p. 85, and “H eden skap og K ristendom II”, p. 380. P. Rolfsen, “D en siste hedning i Agd er”, Viking bd. 44, 1980 (Oslo, 1981); J. H . Larsen , Utskyldsriket. A rkeologisk drøfting av en historisk hypotese, unpublished thesis, U niversity of O slo (1978); L. Forseth, Vikingtiden i Østfold og Vestfold. En kildekritisk gransking av regionale forskjeller i gravfunnene, unpublished thesis, University of O slo (1993), pp. 120–128. O . E. Eide, De toskipede kirker i Oslo. Et forsøk pa redatering og opphavsbestemmelse m ed utgangspunkt i de siste Ê utgravninger i Clemenskirken, unpublished thesis, University of Bergen (1974). J. H . Larsen , op . cit.; B. Solb erg, Jernalder pa nordre Sunnmøre. Bosetning, ressursutnyttelse og sosial struktur, Ê unpublished thesis, University of Bergen (1976). B. Solli, Narratives of Veøy. An Investigation into the Poetics and Scientifics of Archaeology, Universitetets O ldsaksam lings Skrifter, Ny rekke, nr 19 (Oslo, 1996), pp. 152– 155. F. Birkeli, Norske steinkors i tidlig middelalder. Et bidrag til belysning av overgangen fra norrøn religion til kristendom, S krifter utgitt av Det N orske V idenskaps-Akad em i i O slo II. H ist-Filos. K lasse. Ny serie nr 10 (Oslo, 1973). Scand. J. H istory 23
must have made them very familiar with Christian practices and beliefs. The large number of insular objects in pagan graves in Norway in the 9th century, 22 particularly on the northern part of the west coast, indicates that the settlers maintained communication with their hom eland in the northeast. A culturally and religiously very heterogeneous clim ate must have developed in the affected areas of Britain and across the North Sea. The possible late 9th century dating of some of the stone crosses on the Norwegian west coast may indicate that in this period, there may have been opportunities for missionaries to follow their newly converted Norse friends back to their old homelands. As demonstrated, several types of evidence indicate that in the mid-10th century, and maybe even in the first half, burials according to Christian rituals were perform ed in some regions in the western part of Norway. Thus we can be reasonably certain that priests and monks were working with some success on the west coast of Norway during this period. The same applies for the southeast coast, but the evidence in this region does not indicate conversions in any great number before the second half of the 10th century. The possibility of missiona ry ventures on the west coast in the late 9th century must also be consid ered, but at the present stage of research no conclu sive evidence exists. Just before the turn of the millennium, a decided swing occu rred in the conversion of the Norse. To highlight certain dates as fundamentally im portant in an historic process as long as the conversion is of dubious worth. However, as mentioned earlier, an event which must be consid ered decisive was the arrival of King O lav Trygvasson on the island of Moster in the year 995. According to the sagas, the king brought priests with him , and during his five-year reign, he used force to convert the magnates of most of Norway. He called local thing-meetings and 23 persuaded the participants to be baptised and accept C hristian customs. Another decisive incid ent occurred in the early 1020s, when, according to the sagas, King O lav Haraldsson forced the population to accept C hristian laws at a thing-meeting, also on the island of Moster. The new regulations were com posed with the advice of Grimkjell, the king’s bishop. For contemporary society, the thingmeeting at Moster was probably consid ered the definitive breakthrough in the conversion of western Norway. The runic inscription on the Kuli stone states that Christianity had been in Norway for 12 years when the stone was carved. Recent dendrochronological dating from excavations near the stone indicates that it was 24 raised in the year 1034, some 12 years after the thing-meeting at Moster. According to the sagas, O lav Haraldsson forced most regions to convert to Christianity and made efforts to consolid ate and organize the Church. By the end of his regime, in the year 1030, Norwegian society can be consid ered to have converted to C hristianity. This image of the kings being instrumental in the conversion is, as earlier stated, solely based on the sagas. W hen one consid ers that their purpose is to tell the stories
22 23 24
E . W am ers, Insu larer M etallscmuck in wikingerzeitlichen Gra bern Nordeuropas. Untersuchungen zur ¨ skandinavischen W estexpansions (N eu m u nster, 1985), Karte 3 and 6. ¨ P. S. Andersen, op. cit., p. 103. Ê P. S. Andersen, op. cit., pp. 125– 127; K. Pettersen , “Nordm øres forhistorie i landskapet”, A rbok for Nordmøre 1990 , (Kristiansund, 1990); J. R . H agland, “Kulisteinen – enda ein gong”, Heidersskrift til Ê Nils H allan pa 65-a rsdagen 13. desember 1991 , edited by G . Alhau g et al. (Oslo, 1991), pp. 161– 162. Ê Ê
Scand. J. History 23
M issionary Activity in Early M ed ieval N orw ay
of the kings, it becom es evident that there is a strong possibility of these sagas putting too much emphasis on the royal contribution to the general conversion. The sagas also have a strong tendency to focus on dramatic and violent incid ents, leaving everyday occurrences and gradual development unm entioned. Conflicts are the main focu s, and consequently their importance may very well have been exaggerated. The opposition against the kings at the thing-meetings was probably less united than is portrayed in the sagas. Although many scholars have realized this problem, there is little evidence which could correct the saga accounts. Certainly, from the sagas one may conclude that not all of the king’s men were Christians, neither were all his opponents pagans. But the main schem e in the sagas, especially in Snorre Sturlasson’s Heimskringla, is that Christianity was the king’s main token, and that he expected his men to be baptised. From the saga evidence, scholars have developed a theory that conversion was one of the main strategies the kings used to undermine the authority of the old aristocracy, which to a large degree rested on their central role in the pagan cult. This may have been one of the kings’ strategies, but one must not oversim plify the matter. O ne of Olav Haraldsson’s main and most powerful opponents, Erling Skjalgsson, was a Christian who housed a priest, probably on his farm at Sola. This is verified by a runic inscription on a stone cross, stating that the cross was erected by the priest Alfgeirr after his lord Erling. From the saga accou nt, it is clear that Erling’s conversion certainly did not undermine his authority. Nor did it create any barrier between him and other chieftains and warlords opposed to the king, for instance, Asbjørn Selsbane. The notion that the kings used conversion strategically presents problems of another kind as well. Kristin Gellein has analysed evidence concerning the time of conversion in the districts surrounding four royal farms in Hordaland, western Norway. These farms are mentioned in the sagas as belonging to the king in the Ê early 10th century. If conversion was a central political strategy for Kings Ha kon Adalsteinsfostre, O lav Trygvasson and Olav Haraldsson, these districts should have been influenced at an early stage, and the pagan burial custom should have come to an early end. This does not seem to have been the case. W hen working on this very detailed level, the rather imprecise dating of graves becomes a major obstacle. Nevertheless, som e indications may be found. O n four of the farms im mediately surrounding the royal farm at Seim in Alversund parish, three out of four grave finds from the Late Iron Age date from the 10th century. In the whole parish, there are nine more graves from the same period, of which five can be dated to the 10th 25 century and one to the period 950– 1030. From G ellein’s data one may deduce that the areas surrounding the four royal farms do not deviate from the general picture in Hordaland, neither concerning the frequency of pagan graves nor the 26 end of the pagan burial practice. It is also notable that none of the eleven stone 27 crosses in Hordaland has been erected on or in the vicinity of these farms.
25 26 27
K . Gellein, Kristen innflytelse i hedensk tid? En analyse med utgangspunkt i graver fra yngre jernalder i H ordaland, unpublished thesis in Archaeology, U niversity of Bergen (1997), p. 74. K . Gellein, op. cit., pp. 35– 41. K . Gellein, op. cit., pp. 77– 86. Scand. J. H istory 23
No definite conclu sions can be drawn from this material. But the existing evidence is sufficient to warn against simplistic interpretations about the relationship between the conversion and the political efforts of the early kings to strengthen their power. There was no clearly consistent pattern between conversion and political attitudes towards the kings. Definite conclusions about a close relationship between conversion and the strengthening of royal authority should not be drawn from the contemporaneity of the two processes. The parallelism in time certainly meant that the two processes were intertwined. But it is worth remembering that in Denm ark, a kingdom existed for several centuries before the conversion took place, and Iceland was converted several centuries before royal authority was introduced. In Norway, royal authority existed more than a hundred years before O lav Trygvasson went ashore at the island of Moster in 995. And the gradual strengthening of royal authority continu ed until the 13th century. Even though weakening of local chieftains’ power and strengthening of royal power seem to be the result of the long process of conversion, they were not necessarily the result of a consciou s strategy applied by the kings. Ê Ka re Lunden has recently presented the view that political and socia l problems resulting from religious plurality provided the main motive for the kings’ promoting 28 Christianity. He emphasizes that the com petition between the two religions resulted in armed conflict, and that the doubts and anxieties which people, including the kings, must have felt in a religiously divided population had a disintegrating effect on society. In my opinion, there is little evidence for any actual com petition, not to mention armed conflict, between the two religions. I would further underline the practical rather than the psychological and metaphysical problems following from religious plurality. A strong coherent force in the political and socia l life of the aristocracy was participation in the cultic feasts held in the chieftain or king’s hall. In converted society, these feasts continu ed in a som ewhat altered form , with beer drunk in honou r of Christ and the Virgin, as prescribed in the law Gulatingsloven, chapters 6 and 7. The C hristian mass, with the Eucharist as the central rite uniting all Christians, made the common cult all the more important. In religiously divided society, the cultic meal would have been greatly weakened as an arena for building and maintaining friendships and alliances, since it would have been very difficu lt for Christians to participate in the pagan feasts, and for pagans to be allowed into the Christian feasts and masses. For the kings, as well as for other converted aristocrats, all of whom built their power on alliances with other chieftains, this difficu lty in participating in com munal dining would have been a major obstacle, which they may have tried to overcom e by bringing about conversion. Rather than seeing conversion as mainly a political strategy applied by the kings, we should see it as the result of two different but closely connected processes. O n the one hand, there was the expansive Church which, in the 10th and early 11th centuries, worked towards the conversion of the Norse; a Church which had forceful teachings, a developed missiona ry strategy, devoted and well-educated
K . Lu nden, “O vercom ing religious and political pluralism”, Scandinavian Journal of History, V ol. 22 (1997).
Scand. J. History 23
M issionary Activity in Early M ed ieval N orw ay
missiona ries, and a close relationship with worldly power. O n the other hand, there was, in the 10th and early 11th centuries, a definite movem ent within the Norwegian aristocracy, within which the kings were important, towards further integration into the larger European culture. The forerunners in this development were the kings and chieftains who had spent years of their lives ensconced in a Christian culture, either having been brought up in the houses of foreign kings or noblemen, having more or less settled in the Viking territories on the C ontine nt or in Britain, or having served in the armies of Christian kings. Those who returned to Norway brought their ways with them, including their Christian practises. The political aspects of this movem ent are obvious; the kings may have brought about conversion in order to establish their Christian feasts and rites as a com mon arena for building and maintaining friendships within the aristocracy. But the cultural side of it, the identifica tion of the homecom ers with the Christian culture and the desire to be a part of “the new time”, were perhaps even stronger driving forces in the decades of conversion.
4. T he organization of the early Churc h in Norway until 1100 AD As has been demonstrated, the missiona ry strategy of the C hurch was to seek out the worldly leaders, the kings and noblemen, to focu s on their conversion, and afterwards to work under their protection. The Christian G od was depicted as stronger than the old gods. The kings and noblemen were the close friends of God, by virtue of the task assigned to them: to promote the cause of G od on earth. O ld customs and rituals were, when possible, maintained, but they were pervaded with Christian content. The inherently pagan rituals were forbidden. The establishment of an ecclesiastical organization was an integral part of the 29 missiona ry venture, and this early organization of the C hurch was infused with the missionary strategy. The missiona ry bishops followed the king, travelling under the protection of his hird. W hen they grew more numerous, som e of them travelled independently, but probably still under the protection of the king’s local allies and their armed men. As the Church grew wealthier in the 11th century, the bishops 30 were protected by their own armed men, as is described in the oldest laws. This loose organization of bishops, without fixed dioceses and sees, was maintained for a long period after the conversion. As late as the early 1070s, Adam of Bremen relates that the Norwegian bishops travelled constantly around the country. The local organization of the C hurch, below the level of bishop, was also closely connected to the missiona ry strategy. The early C hurch was clearly aristocratic in character, relying on worldly power. This was the case in the whole of Christendom , but the support of the powerful was especially necessary in the period of conversion, when the unarmed men of the Church could easily becom e victim s of hatred and violence. A priest most likely became a member of the household of a friendly magnate, serving him by singing masses and administering
R . E. Sullivan, op . cit., pp. 292–295. P. S. Andersen, op. cit., pp. 311– 314. Scand. J. H istory 23
the sacraments, probably mainly to the members of his family, his body of armed 31 men, and to his friends in the region. Following the conversion of Norwegian socie ty as a whole, the status of the Church changed dramatically. A consequence of the acceptance of C hristian laws was that the entire population required the attentions provided by the clerics. These included having their children baptised, their dead buried in the proper manner, and so on. W hen need arose, priests had to be close at hand. A dense network of priests had to be created throughout the country, graveyards had to be consecrated, and in time, churches had to be built. The contemporary evidence concerning this settling of the Church in Norway is scant indeed. Obviously this expansion of the ecclesiastical organization had to follow much the same line as before the general conversion. This is evident in the sources concerning the missionary strategy in the Carolingian period. The missiona ries seem to have entered the newly converted areas in small groups, settling as a unit at a place where they could be econom ically self-sufficient by cultivating the land they acquired and setting up buildings for living quarters. Land and buildings were supplied by sym pathetic landowners, either the king, his allies, or other local aristocrats. From these relatively few and scattered centres, the missiona ries travelled around the countryside, preaching , teaching and caring for 32 the population. To get a firmer grip on how this general strategy was applied in Norway, we will have to make use of more recent sources. From this evidence, we must work backwards in time to uncover the organization of the C hurch in the missiona ry period of the 11th century. I have carried out research on this topic in Rom erike, 33 one of the main settlement regions in central eastern Norway. Romerike is situated just northeast of Oslo, south of Lake Mjøsa, and north of Lake Ø yeren. The region measures approxim ately 35 km east to west and 60 km north to south. The topography is relatively flat, and the region is surrounded by rocky hills covered by forest. The interior is com posed of fertile soils, although habitation areas are separated by hills, and by areas with poor sandy soil or marshes. In the 14th century, 37 churches were located in this region. In the medieval ecclesiastical cadaster from the diocese of O slo, the rights to the tithe are recorded for most of these churches, and in several instances the actual incom e from the tithe 34 is also recorded. Investigation of this inform ation reveals an interesting pattern. Normally the tithe from a parish was divided into four equal portions, one for the bishop, one for the parish priest, one for maintaining the parish church, and one for the poor in the parish. In only a few of the 37 parishes does the normal division appear to have been implemented. The medieval cadaster reveals that in half of the parishes, the priest and the church buildings had rights to considerably less than
31 32 33 34
D . Skre, “Kirken før sognet”; Achen, op. cit.. R . E. S ullivan, “T he C arolingian m issionary and the pagan”, Speculum. A Journal of M edieval Studies, V ol. 28, pp. 706– 707. T he following is based on D. S kre, “Kirken før sognet”, and D . Skre, H erredøm met. Bosetning og besittelse pa Romerike 200–1350 e. Kr., Acta H umaniora, nr. 32, U niversitetsforlaget, (Oslo, 1998). Ê T he m edieval cadaster, which dates from 1390– 1394 and is called Biskop Eysteins Jordebok, was published from 1873– 1880 by H . J. H uitfeldt.
Scand. J. History 23
M issionary Activity in Early M ed ieval N orw ay
their normal share, while four of the churches had the rights to consid erably more than the shares which they received from their own parishes. Further investigation indicates that the extra tithe these four churches received was balanced by the 35 shares of which the neighbouring churches were deprived. The obvious conclusion is that in the 14th century, each of these four churches had the right to receive large shares of the tithe from the closest surrounding parishes, whereas in the peripheral parishes, full shares were allotted to the priest and to the church buildings (Fig. 1). This system of re-allotment of tithes can not be explained by contemporary circumstances, and the origin for this arrangement, therefore, must be sought in the early organization of the Church. In the early medieval laws from this region, the Eidsivatingsloven, the main churches are called hovedkirker. The four churches receiving portions of the tithe from neighbou ring parishes must have been the hovedkirker of Rom erike. U nfortunately, Norwegian sources are rather silent as to the nature and tasks of a hovedkirke, which literally means “main church”. W e must turn to evidence as to how the Church was organized on a local level in England and the northern part of the Continent, the areas from which the missionaries came. This evidence reveals, not surprisingly, close parallels to the Church’s organization in the missiona ry fields in Norway. During the last decade, the organization of the local Church in the period before the parish system has received much scholarly attention, starting with a conference 36 report edited by John Blair. Since then the “minster hypothesis” has been heavily debated, but it would be fair to say that it has survived in a refined form, the main points being that prior to the division into parishes, most priests were living in central institutions. In som e areas these were called minsters, in others baptismal churches. 3 7 Their work was partially conducted in the minster and its im mediate surroundings. But the territory of each minster was often so extensive that the priests had to journey long distances within the territory, to conduct masses in homes, churches and chapels. From the 9th to 12th centuries, many private churches were built, and an increasing number of church owners in England and on the Continent installed priests in their own churches. As the number of priests increased, the tasks of the journeying minster-priests were transferred to these local priests. Simultaneously, though reluctantly, most of the econom ic privileges of the minsters were locally allocated as well. During the 12th century, the minster system, in which a few central churches were surrounded by several secondary churches, was replaced by the parish system, which was com posed of churches with fairly equal rights. However, in many regions, the old minsters succeeded in retaining som e of their form er privileges, for instance, their right to a share in the tithe from the parishes in what was once their territory.
35 36 37
D . Skre, H erredømmet, pp. 72– 89. J. Blair, M insters and Parish Churches. The Local Church in Transition 950–1200 , O xford University C om m ittee for Archaeology , M onograp h nr 17 (Oxford, 1988). T he following is based on G. W . O . Addleshaw, “T he early parochial system and the D ivine O ffice”, Alcuin Club Prayer Book Revision Pamphlets, nr 15 (London, 1957); G. W . O . Addleshaw, “T he develop m ent of the parochial system from Charlemagne (768–814) to U rban II (1088– 1099)”, St. A nthony’s H all Publications, nr 6, 2nd edition (York, 1970); F. Barlow , The English Church 1000– 1066. A H istory of the Later A nglo-Saxon Church. (London, 1979); J. Blair, op . cit.; J. Blair and R. Sharpe, Pastoral Care Before the Parish (Leicester, Lond on, N ew York, 1992). Scand. J. H istory 23
Fig. 1. This m ap of Rom erike shows the different churches’ rights to tithe in the late 14th century. T he four hovedkirker at Rom erike, Eid , Nes, Ullinshov and Sørum (large crosses) had the full right to tithe from their own parish, plus a substantial share in the tithe from the parishes in the vicinity (small crosses). T he m ore distant churches had full rights to tithe from their ow n parish (medium-sized crosses). T he probable borders of the tridjung, which is m entioned in the 12th century in connection with the hovedkirker, are indicated. Shad ing indicates inhabited areas. Scand. J. History 23
M issionary Activity in Early M ed ieval N orw ay
The tithe arrangements of 14th century Rom erike accord very well with this development. Except for the differences caused by the late establishment of the Church in Norway, meaning that we should not expect the large and costly churches, the well-established institutions, and the large number of priests found in 38 Britain, the parallels between the Norwegian hovedkirker and the British minsters are obvious. Early on, priests from the four main churches took care of the pastoral work in the entire region. As the number of churches grew, local priests were installed. The more distant churches would have been the first to have their own priests, as the populations there must have suffered when there was an acute need for the service of the priest, for instance, when som eone was ill and the administering of the Extreme U nction was needed. It must have been easier for the minster priests to maintain their rights to incom e from the parishes that were closer to the main church. As has been demonstrated, they still kept a share of this incom e in the 14th century. The precise chronology of this development is difficu lt to ascertain, but som e indications may be deduced from the archaeological record. To date, the remains of ten early wooden churches have been excavated in Norway. None of these churches can be demonstrated to be older than the second half of the 11th 39 century. This would im ply that the building of churches did not gain momentum until this period, and that the number of churches was still small in the 10th century and the first half of the 11th. However, it should be noted that several of the churches were built on Christian graveyards which were established in the first half of the 11th century, and, in some cases, even in the 10th century. This chronology in the building of churches may correspond to the early developmental stages in the organization of the local Church in Norway. In the missiona ry period, that is, until the later part of the 11th century, the religious needs of the population were dealt with by clerics situated in central churches, the hovedkirker. Some of the sacraments were probably only administered in these central churches, for instance, baptism. But several clerical duties, like singing mass and conducting funerals, were probably performed locally by priests travelling in the districts surrounding their hovedkirker. The main task of these priests was probably to teach the fundamental truths, the essential prayers, and the meanings of the mass and the sacraments to a population as yet only vaguely familiar with them. In the later part of the 11th century, the more widespread building of churches occu rred and continu ed into the 12th century. The building of churches and the installation of local priests eventually led to fragmentation of the territories of the hovedkirker and the advent of the parish system in the High Middle Ages. The intense church-building beginning in the second half of the 11th century can be interpreted as an indication of the ultimate acceptance of the C hristian cosm ology by the population. The teachings of the Church were no longer alien to the minds of the Norse, and the missionary period in Norway was over. Evidence from throughout the country indicates that the building of churches in the later part of the 11th century and onwards was mainly conducted by the king
In laws other then the Eidsivatingsloven they are called fylkeskirker, literally, “county churches”. D . Skre, “Kirken før sognet”, pp. 215–216. Scand. J. H istory 23
and the local aristocracy. The evidence from Romerike certainly confirm s this belief. Thirty-five out of the 37 churches are located on large farms. But what about the hovedkirker, which probably originate from the 10th and early 11th centuries? W ho opened their houses to the first priests working permanently in the region, who gave them shelter, protection and supplied the other necessities of life? To begin to answer these questions, we will return to the evidence from Rom erike, and investigate two of the four hovedkirker, the churches at Eid and Sørum. The sagas tell us that the king founded some of the earliest churches. The hovedkirke at Eid is an example of this. Snorre relates that king O lav Haraldsson stayed for som e days at Eid. He went to church there, and he established Eid as the location for the yearly meeting of the Eidsivating. O ne should not rely too heavily on this kind of detailed inform ation, written 200 years after the events took place. But the im pression left by Snorre’s writing, that the king was instrumental in establishing the hovedkirke at Eid, is supported by evidence concerning the ownership of land around the church. From examination of medieval documents, it appears that the king in the 11th century owned the eight farms surrounding the church at Eid. A small local estate like this is just the place one would expect the king to establish a hovedkirke. Here he had buildings, supplies, men and land, all of which was necessary to protect and feed the clerics. From the sagas and from runic inscriptions, we know of several instances of local aristocrats receiving priests and building churches. But were these churches meant for the private use of the magnate, or could the local aristocracy also establish hovedkirker that would serve the whole region? The southernmost of the four hovedkirker at Romerike, the one at Sørum, is illuminating in this respect. In the High Middle Ages, this farm was the residence of the owner of the estate called Sørumsgodset, which at this time consisted of farms distributed throughout Rom erike. The history of the estate may be traced back to the mid-12th century, but it is probably consid erably older. The main part of the estate was located in the immediate surroundings of the farm at Sørum where the minster was founded, probably in the first half of the 11th century. The establishm ent of the minster at Sørum in this core area of the Sørum estate must have been im plemented by one of the Sørum magnates. Evidence from other parts of the country indicates that the picture from Rom erike is a com mon one. The king in particular, but also prom inent magnates offered the men of the Church shelter, protection and the opportunity to work in the region. Furthermore, the practice of installing priests on the estates of kings and magnates, in institutions resembling the minsters, probably goes back to the middle Ê or even the first half of the 10 th century, to the days of King Ha kon Adalsteinsfostre. 5. Epilogue The conversion of Norway is often portrayed as a violent process, with the king forcing a new faith on a reluctant population. It is also consid ered a fundamental religious change which caused social disruption. But this picture is based on the sagas, which often concentrate on the dramatic and violent incid ents. It must be balanced against other types of evidence regarding the conversion, and against the
Scand. J. History 23
M issionary Activity in Early M ed ieval N orw ay
general character of Christian missions in northern Europe around the end of the first millennium. Although missionaries sometimes followed in the tracks of armies invading pagan lands and took part in forced conversions, the Church’s main strategy in pagan areas was to convert the powerful, to fill the pagan religious forms with C hristian content, and to avoid overt change which could undermine the authority of the aristocracy. The role of the missiona ries working directly on the conversion of the aristocracy, both in Norway and, while the Vikings remained, more or less temporarily in Christian areas, should not be underestimated. The Christian graveyards and stone crosses dating to the 10th century, and perhaps the late 9th, and the gradual abandonment of pagan burial practices in the 10th, indicate that the missionaries met with consid erable success in the coastal areas of southern Norway, even though support from the Christian kings of Denm ark and Norway appears to have been weak and frail. The role of the kings in the conversion of Norwegian society was certainly decisive . The political motive behind these campaigns was probably to establish the Christian equivalent of the cultic feasts as a common arena for the aristocracy to create and maintain friendly relations with the king and its members. However, the kings’ efforts should mainly be seen as part of a stronger orientation within the Norwegian aristocracy towards Christian culture. This close conne ction to Continental and British cultures is also mirrored in the early organization of the Church, which has close parallels to the minster pattern in these areas. In my opinion, the picture from the sagas of violent conversion and dramatic religious changes must be supplemented and partly replaced by the im age of the aristocracy identifying itself more strongly with the larger European aristocratic culture, and by the clerics working peacefully towards the conversion of the aristocracy, preaching about the new God: a G od whom they claimed to be much the same as the old ones, only stronger and better.
Scand. J. H istory 23
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