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The Christianization of Scandinavia, as well as other Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, took place between the 8th and the 12th centuries. The realms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden established their own Archdioceses, responsible directly to the Pope, in 1104, 1154 and 1164, respectively. The conversion to Christianity of the Scandinavian people required more time, since it took additional efforts to establish a network of churches.
The earliest signs of Christianization were in the 830s with Ansgar's construction of churches in Birka and Hedeby in the 830s. The conversion of Scandinavian kings occurred over the period 960–1020. Subsequently, Scandinavian kings sought to establish churches, dioceses and Christian kingship, as well as destroy pagan temples. Denmark was the first Scandinavian country to Christianize, as Harald Bluetooth declared this around AD 975, and raised the larger of the two Jelling Stones. According to historian Anders Winroth, Christianity was not forced upon Scandinavians by foreign states or foreign missionaries, but instead willfully adopted by Scandinavian kings who saw the religion as politically advantageous.
Although the Scandinavians became nominally Christian, it took considerably longer for actual Christian beliefs to establish themselves among the people in some regions, while the people were Christianized before the king in other regions. During the Early Middle Ages the papacy had not yet manifested itself as the central Roman Catholic authority, thus making it possible for regional variants of Christianity to develop.
Recorded missionary efforts in Denmark started with Willibrord, Apostle to the Frisians, who preached in Schleswig, which at the time was part of Denmark. He went north from Frisia sometime between 710 and 718 during the reign of King Ongendus. Willibrord and his companions had little success: the king was respectful but had no interest in changing his beliefs. Agantyr did permit 30 young men to return to Frisia with Willibrord. Perhaps Willibrord's intent was to educate them and recruit some of them to join his efforts to bring Christianity to the Danes. A century later Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims and Willerich, later Bishop of Bremen, baptized a few persons during their 823 visit to Denmark. He returned to Denmark twice to proselytize but without any recorded success.
In 826, the King of Jutland Harald Klak was forced to flee from Denmark by Horik I, Denmark's other king. Harald went to Emperor Louis I of Germany to seek help getting his lands in Jutland back. Louis I offered to make Harald Duke of Frisia if he would give up the old gods. Harald agreed, and his family and the 400 Danes with him were baptized in Ingelheim am Rhein. When Harald returned to Jutland, Emperor Louis and Ebbo of Rheims assigned the monk Ansgar to accompany Harald and oversee Christianity among the converts. When Harald Klak was forced from Denmark by King Horik I again, Ansgar left Denmark and focused his efforts on the Swedes. Ansgar traveled to Birka in 829 and established a small Christian community there. His most important convert was Herigar, described as a prefect of the town and a counselor to the king. In 831 the Archdiocese of Hamburg was founded and assigned responsibility for proselytizing Scandinavia.
Horik I sacked Hamburg in 845 where Ansgar had become the archbishop. The seat of the archdiocese was transferred to Bremen. In the same year there was a pagan uprising in Birka that resulted in the martyrdom of Nithard and forced the resident missionary Bishop Gautbert to flee. Ansgar returned to Birka in 854 and Denmark in 860 to reestablish some of the gains of his first visits. In Denmark he won over the trust of then-King Horik II (not Horik I, who was murdered in 854 and opposed Christianity) who gave him land in Hedeby (proto-town to be replaced by Schleswig) for the first Christian chapel. A second church was founded a few years later in Ribe on Denmark's west coast. Ribe was an important trading town, and as a result, southern Denmark was made a diocese in 948 with Ribe as its seat, a part of the Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen under its first bishop, St. Leofdag who was murdered that year while crossing the Ribe River.
The supremacy of the archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen over ecclesiastical life in the north gradually declined as the papacy, from the pontificate of Pope Gregory VII onwards, involved itself more with the North directly. A significant step in this direction was the foundation of an archbishopric for the whole of Scandinavia at Lund in 1103–04.
Both the accounts of Willibrod and of Harald are semi-mythical, and integrate mythical and legendary themes from the Nordic pagan tradition into their Christian stories. A syncretized variant of the story of Harald, that has him battling Ragnar Lodbrok to establish Christianity in Denmark, appears in Book Nine of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. Ebbo is the name of a mythical Nordic figure, Ibor, also known as Egil or Orvandil, who is an archer, elf, and smith who turns against the Aesir gods and wages war upon them, and the story of Ebbo of Rheims integrates themes of the divine Ebbo's story, including peasant (non-Aesir) birth and migration. Harald's usurpation and his efforts at Christianization are related to several stories of "usurpation" and "changes in sacrifices", including the usurpation of Mithothyn and the introduction of the worship of Frey at Uppsala, in that they utilize similar motifs and mythical figures.
The Scandinavian medieval kings also ruled over provinces outside of Scandinavia. These provinces are today known as the Nordic countries.
See also: History of the Faroe Islands
Sigmundur Brestisson was the first Faroe-man to convert to the Christian faith, bringing Christianity to the Faroes at the decree of Olaf Tryggvason. Initially Sigmundur sought to convert the islanders by reading the decree to the Alting in Tórshavn but was nearly killed by the resulting angry mob. He then changed his tactics, went with armed men to the residence of the chieftain Tróndur í Gøtu and broke in his house by night. He offered him the choice between accepting Christianity or face beheading; he chose the former. Later on, in 1005, Tróndur í Gøtu attacked Sigmundur by night at his yard in Skúvoy, whereupon Sigmundur fled by swimming to Sandvík on Suðuroy. He reached land in Sigmundargjógv in Sandvík, but a farmer in the village killed the exhausted Sigmundur and stole his precious golden arm ring.
|Christianization of Finland|
|Kokemäki ● Köyliö ● Nousiainen ● Koroinen ● Turku Cathedral|
|Finnish-Novgorodian wars First Swedish Crusade Second Swedish Crusade Third Swedish Crusade|
See also: History of Finland
Judging by archaeological finds, Christianity gained a foothold in Finland during the 11th century. The Catholic church was strengthened with growing Swedish influence in the 12th century and the Finnish "crusade" of Birger Jarl in the 13th century. Finland was part of Sweden since then until the 19th century.
Main article: Christianization of Iceland
Irish monks known as Papar are said to have been present in Iceland before its settlement by the Norse in the 9th century.
Following King Olaf I's taking of Icelandic hostages, there was tension between the Christian and pagan factions in 10th century Iceland. Violent clashes were avoided by the decision of the Althing in 1000 AD to put the arbitration between them to Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the leader of the pagan faction. He opted, after a day and a night of meditation, that the country should convert to Christianity as a whole, while pagan worship in private would continue to be tolerated.
Some conversions appear to have taken place for political and material gain, while others were for spiritual reasons. For instance, some may have simply wanted to take the rich gifts (such as a fine, white baptismal garment) that were being handed out by Frankish nobles, who acted as the baptismal candidates' sponsors, when they were baptized. In the case of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, for example, he only partially converted to the new faith (at least at first) to preserve his independence from the Germans, who posed an even greater threat at the time than the Franks had been prior to this. He also saw that Christianity had much to offer to his rule. It not only helped to exalt his status, but it also provided practical help. The Missionary bishops were literate, and those who had experience of the royal government in Germany or England had the potential to be valuable advisors. There was also an economic motive to convert as pagan kings were fascinated with Christian wealth. As a result, some chose to accept the new faith as a way to gain access to this wealth.
In 1721, a new Danish colony was started in Greenland with the objective of converting the inhabitants to Christianity. Around the same time efforts were made in Norway and Sweden to convert the Sami, who had remained pagan long after the conversion of their neighbours. The Sami religion is still practiced by some.
Research shows that Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden are currently among the least religious nations in the world; nevertheless, "many Danes and Swedes, for instance, will profess belief in 'something,' although not necessarily the God of the Bible." Phil Zuckerman writes in a 2009 article to the Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, "Surely the historical developments of culture and religion in Denmark and Sweden are crucially informing factors in explaining the current state of irreligiosity."
The Sami remained unconverted until the 18th century.
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