The spread of Christianity in Scandinavian outposts in the Atlantic

The Viking explosion of the ninth and tenth centuries planted Scandinavian colonies, largely Norwegian, on westward-lying islands as far away as Greenland. In the latter part of the tenth and the fore part of the eleventh century Christianity was carried to them and their populations accepted it, but in some instances not without hesitation and with divided counsels.

The Orkney, the Faroe, and the Shetland Islands had something of a Christian population before the coming of the Vikings. The latter represented a pagan influx. Olaf Tryggvason is credited with the conversion of the populations of the Faroes and the Shet-

lands and with the forcible baptism of the head man of the Orkneys. Olaf Haraldsson helped to confirm and deepen the change.

The first settlers of Iceland seem to have been Irish monks, but, obviously, they did not give rise to a continuing population. The first large immigration appears to have been by Norwegians who disliked the centralizing measures of Harald Fairhair. Some effort at their conversion was made in the 980's. More vigorous and outwardly successful measures were taken at the instance of Olaf Tryggvason during his brief and stormy reign. Many were baptized and for a time civil war threatened between Christians and pagans. This was avoided by a compromise suggested by one of the leading men. It was agreed that all were to accept baptism, but that secret sacrifices to the old gods were to be met with only minor penalties. A few years later paganism was officially abolished. Olaf Haraldsson sent at least one bishop and a bell and timber for a church. The island long suffered from a shortage of clergy. This was partly met by training local boys and by a line of native bishops. The lads so prepared remained in subjection to the chiefs, and the bishops, while sent to the Continent for consecration, were elected by the island assembly, the Althing.

The first Norse settlement of Greenland was on the less insalubrious west coast and from Iceland, near the end of the tenth century. The leader was a pagan, Eric the Red. Christianity was introduced by his son, Leif, who had been won to the faith by Olaf Tryggvason and who, to his father's disgust, brought a priest to the island. The Norse population was never large, probably not much over two thousand. Churches and a cathedral were eventually erected and in the fore part of the twelfth century a bishop was consecrated. The bishop was henceforth the civil as well as the ecclesiastical head of the colony.

It was by the Norse that Christianity reached America. Leif Ericson himself is said to have been the first to touch the continent. How many Norse came in succeeding years we do not know. Nor do we know where they went, how many if any of them were Christians, or whether they made any converts among the Eskimoes and Indians.

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