The Vínland sagas as propaganda for the Christian Church: Freydís and Gudríd as paradigms for Eve and the Virgin Mary
By Claire Cavaleri
Master’s Thesis, University of Oslo, 2008
Introduction: Over the last two centuries, the Vínland Sagas have become some of the most discussed of Medieval Nordic documents. There are arguments about every aspect of the sagas: What the name Vínland means, if Vínland existed, where it would have been geographically, and how much of their content is historically accurate. However, very few arguments have taken into account the strong Christian influence on written works of this period, and the interest the Church may have had in adapting popular tales to teach the populace about Christian values. While I believe that there certainly are aspects of the sagas that are factual, it is difficult, if not impossible, to single these elements out from the rest of the content.
I suggest in my thesis that not only were the stories of the Vínland voyages adapted by the Church to reflect its values, but that many of the smaller scenes throughout the sagas came directly from common myths and folklore found across Europe. With reference to the first point, I shall in particular make a comparison of two primary female characters in the sagas, Freydís and Gudríd, to the Biblical characters of Eve and Mary, respectively. I hope to show by the end of this dissertation how the historical facts of the Vínland journeys could have been rearranged and added to in order to better serve Church needs during a crucial period in the implementation of Church authority across Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.
How does one begin to address the concept of Vínland and the problems associated with it, when even our two main primary sources differ on the facts of certain events, and both are frequently used out of context? Most of the secondary sources disagree with each other outright. I shall be looking at the sagas with a focus on finding evidence that the Vínland sagas are made up of bits and pieces of other folkmyths, and with Christian paradigms that are evident enough to suggest a Church agenda in their composition. This will involve looking at sources that are not necessarily directly related to Vínland, both the Bible itself and other contemporary folktales from around Europe where I can access them.
I shall especially be using a comparison of Freydís Eiríksdóttir and Gudríd to Eve and the Virgin Mary respectively as evidence for Christian paradigms within the sagas. There may be some truth to the sagas, especially regarding personal names and settlement information, as well as information about the technology and social structures. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know with certainty the level to which these sources can be trusted, and so I will only address these “potentially factual” elements where they can assist my primary thesis.