Christianization of the Norse c.900-c.1100: A Premeditated Strategy of Life and Death
By Sebastian L. Klein
Master’s Thesis, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2011
Introduction: Considering that the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon English was part of a premeditated mission strategy, and scholars believe that the Christianization of the Norse shared strong links with Anglo-Saxon England, there is cause to believe a correlation exists between the Christianization of the two societies. The goal of this thesis is to advance the hypothesis that the Christianization of the Norse in the tenth and eleventh centuries was the effect of a premeditated mission strategy borne from the experiences of converting the Anglo-Saxon English in the seventh century AD.
This thesis is heavily inspired by the work of British historian Marilyn Dunn and her book The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons c.597-c.700: Discourses of Life, Death and Afterlife. One of her main suggestions is that the Justinianic Plague which struck Europe in waves throughout the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries catalysed a greater fear of the malignant dead particularly visible in Anglo-Saxon England. These fears generated a revised interest in traditional burials, which diverged dramatically from the Christian Church’s strict doctrine on funerary rites and belief in the afterlife. Throughout the sixth Century the Church reacted steadily to the deaths caused by epidemics and had started making changes to its theories concerning the afterlife, but with the plague sweeping across Anglo-Saxon England in the late seventh century, a country which was currently undergoing a process of mass Christianization, it was forced to quickly develop a more syncretic view on the liminality of the soul, forming the foundation for later centuries’ perceptions of Purgatory.
As medievalists appreciate, the rarity of written sources and the disparity of the archeological record makes adhering to a strict chronology quite difficult, especially in the context of the Christianization of the Norse, where lack of contemporary material is infamous. Despite this, there are vast references to the malignant dead in Nordic cultures, and in Norse textual material, such as the Icelandic sagas. To bridge the lack of resources, the use of a comparative approach with Anglo-Saxon England will enable us to view the Christianization of the Norse in a different context and gain a clearer understanding of the processes involved. In light of Dunn’s recent work it is my hope that this study will generate fresh insight on the subject of the Christianization of the Norse.