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The Conversion to Christianity

9th century Crucifix - Birka, Sweden

The Conversion to Christianity

The first Christian missionary to Scandinavia took place before the Viking Age in c. 725 when St Willibrord visited Angantyr, King of Denmark. However, Willibrord’s missionary was not successful, and it was not until the 820’s that St Ansgar and Ebo of Rheims made missionary journeys to Denmark

In 831, St Ansgar founded the Bishopric of Hamburg as a base for missionary work in Scandinavia. St Ansgar founded small Christian communities at Birka, Hedeby and Ribe, but by 900 these areas were once again almost entirely pagan.

In Britain and Francia Christianity was being adopted by Scandinavian colonists as a result of contact with the indigenous Christian population. In Britain this was helped by Alfred’s insistence of the Baptism of Guthrum as part of the agreement of the Peace of Wedmore.

The conversion of Scandinavia began in the 10th century when royal converts such as Harald Bluetooth in Denmark, Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson in Norway, and Olaf Skötkonung in Sweden. With their conversion, they actively set about promoting Christianity within their realms. Harald Bluetooth recorded his successful conversion of the Danes on the runestone at the royal necropolis at Jelling.

Denmark came to be viewed as largely Christian by 1000, Norway by 1030, but in Sweden paganism remained strong until the end of the 11th century There was even a brief pagan revival under Blot-Sven (1080-3). It is probable that the pagan cult centre at Gamla Uppsala remain in use as late as 1110.

In Iceland, Christianity was officially adopted at the Althing in 1000, and pagan practices were banned in public, although a short period of grace allowed pagan practices to continue in private.

The first bishopric in Iceland was founded at Skálholt in 1056 by Ísleifur.