Anglo-Danish Connections and the Organisation of the Early Danish Church: Contribution to a Debate

Anglo-Danish Connections and the Organisation of the Early Danish Church: Contribution to a Debate

By Marie Bønløkke Spejlborg

Networks and Neighbours, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2014

Canute Lavard (died 1131), Danish prince and saint. Medieval painting in the church of Vigersted, Denmark. Photographer: Fredrik Tersmeden, Lund, Sweden (2002)

Introduction: The Christianization of Northern Europe is closely linked to concepts of cultural transfer, transmission, and influence. Latin Christianity was essentially foreign to the medieval North, and foreign expertise was needed for the implementation of the Christian faith and for the formation and development of ecclesiastical institutions.

Consequently, the subject makes an excellent case for comparative studies. Indeed, when discussing the effects of the Christianization, comparison is essential. For Scandinavia, where written sources from the conversion period, as well as for the following phases of establishment and consolidation of the churches, are scarce and archaeological evidence rarely conclusive, it is often necessary to look for parallels abroad in the areas from where the Christian missions came.

The study of English influence in Scandinavia has attracted particular attention and the importance of English contacts for the Christianization of Scandinavia is well-established. In Denmark, English contacts become most apparent from the late-tenth century when raids across the North Sea were renewed, a period often termed ‘England’s second Viking Age’. The Danish campaigns culminated in the conquests of England, first by the Danish King Swein Forkbeard in 1013 and three years later by his son Cnut the Great who came to rule both England and Denmark until his death in 1035. The contacts forged in this period changed the ecclesiastical scene in Denmark – at least for a while.

The question of how the English contacts affected the processes of Christianization – especially in terms of ecclesiastical organisation – in Denmark does, however, remain elusive. The scarcity and ambiguity of the historical as well as the archaeological evidence has called for comparisons across the North Sea in an attempt to establish the internal organisation of the early Danish Church. But the differences of the circumstances of the Danish and English Churches in their origin as well as their later structure make direct comparisons tenuous.

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