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Thread: The English (Anglo-Saxon) Church in Scandinavia

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    The English (Anglo-Saxon) Church in Scandinavia

    Compared with the rest of western Europe, Christianity came late to Scandinavia. Harold Klak was the only Scandinavian leader known to have converted in the ninth century. He was baptized in 826 in Mainz, but was driven out by the Danes a year later. Many of the ninth century Danes were willing to tolerate Christianity and accepted Christ as a powerful God, but not the only god. Those who regularly dealt with Christian communities were prime-signed, a preliminary step in the baptism ritual that allowed pagans to deal with Christian people.1

    The next Scandinavian king to accept Christianity was Harold Bluetooth who was probably converted by the missionary priest Poppo about 965.2 Harold was baptized along with his wife Gunnhild and their son Svein. Adam of Bremen claimed that the German king Otto had previously defeated Harold in battle and now served as sponsor for Svein at his baptism.3
    The thirteenth century Knytling Saga reported the same tradition.4 After his conversion, Harold built a large church at Jelling and also moved the bodies of his mother and father into hallowed ground. Harold commissioned a monument commemorating his parents in which he claimed that he had made the Danes Christian.5 After his own conversion, Harold tried to force his Norwegian ally, Earl Häkon, to accept baptism and priests while he was in Denmark to give military aid to Harold. However, on his return to Norway, Häkon put the priests ashore and continued his independent, pagan ways.6

    Ecclesiastical organization after conversion required at least one bishop to confirm converts, consecrated churches, and ordain priests. The archbishop of Hamberg-Bremen ordained bishops for sees in Denmark about 948, but there is no evidence that they ever established sees in Denmark.7 Adam of Bremen named the sees at Schleswig, Ribe and Aarhus. Since he later stated that the archbishop consecrated bishops whose locations he did not know, it appeared that the original sees were not established. Instead, missionary bishops were consecrated without a permanent location.8 There is no strong evidence for firmly instituted Danish sees before the reign of Cnut. It is possible that King Harold did not like the subordination that the subjection of the Danish church to German archbishops implied. Two bishops that actually worked in Scandinavia in the tenth century were not Germans. Odinkar was a Danish noble and Liafdag was a Frisian.9

    Adam claimed that there was a pagan reaction in Denmark when Svein Forkbeard became king through rebellion against his father.10 However, there was no evidence of a reversion to pagan burial practices to support this claim.11 Svein was known to favor Christianity but was tolerant of paganism. He was an active supporter of Christianity in Norway where he appointed at least one missionary bishop from England, Gotebald, to preach in both Norway and Sweden.12 Gotebald operated in Zealand and Skane, but like the earlier bishops from Germany, there is no evidence that Svein established proper dioceses. At least in Skane, a diocese was not firmly established until about 1060.13 Adam's problem with Svein was probably not that he was pagan. Since the German bishops were an integral part of the secular state, Svein might have felt they were a threat to his independence so he turned to England for church support rather than Hamberg-Bremen which was controlled by German kings. English ecclesiastical interference in Scandinavia was a serious threat to the archbishop since Hamberg-Bremen had no other suffragans and could, thus, lose its archiepiscopal status.14

    Pagan resistance in Norway was much stronger than in Denmark. Earl Häkon's rebellion was only one example of the strong pagan feeling, particularly in the north. However, when King Harold Fairhair sent his son Häkon to England as foster-son of King Æthelstan, he must have been prepared for him to receive a Christian education.15 Harold's heir, Eric Blood-Ax was a pagan, but he was driven out and Häkon eventually became king. When he did, he brought bishops and priests from England.16

    Häkon was forced to make compromises with his pagan subjects in the North to keep the peace in his kingdom and the church did not expand to that area during his reign.17 At some time in the reign of King Edgar, an English bishop named Sigfrid was consecrated for Norway. His success can not have been great since Sigfrid is only known because William of Malmesbury reported that he was a monk of Glastonbury who gave the monastery four rich copes and that he was buried there when he died.18
    The success of Olaf Tryggvason in Norway was at least in part due to English assistance. In 994, Olaf and King Æthelred met at Andover. Æthelred sponsored Olaf at his confirmation and gave him royal gifts. In return, Olaf promised that he would never again attack England, a promise he kept.19 The English church provided clergy to assist Olaf in the conversion of Norway. When he returned to Norway in 995, Olaf was also accompanied by Bishop Sigurd who was probably a Northumbrian with a Scandinavian background.20 The royal gifts described in the Chronicle provided material support for Olaf's seizure of the Norwegian crown. This support was probably Æthelred's attempt to divide the Viking forces and force Svein to concentrate on Olaf's challenge in Norway rather than continuing his attack on England.21 In 995, then, Norway was conquered and converted "to a large extent with English money, English provisions, and - most assuredly - English blessings."22 Æthelred's policy was successful until Olaf was killed in a sea battle about 1000 and Svein was again free to attack England.23

    Svein returned to England in 1012 with a force that eventually conquered the country. At that point, Olaf Haraldsson, whose ships had been supporting Æthelred, left England and began to establish himself in Norway. This may have been another attempt to divert Svein's attention away from England. Like Olaf Tryggvason before him, Olaf Haraldsson was accompanied by English missionary bishops, Sigfrid, Grimkell, Rudolf and Bernhard. After he had secured the crown, Olaf appointed Grimkell as his bishop in Norway.24 He probably intended to establish ecclesiastical relations with Canterbury, but when Æthelred was defeated and Edmund Ironside died, his rivalry with Cnut forced Olaf to turn to Hamberg-Bremen.25 Bishop Grimkell was sent to Bremen to negotiate a relationship and requested that the archbishop accept the English priests that Olaf had brought and send others to continue the mission work.26

    English influence in the Danish church increased during the reign of Cnut.27 There is evidence that Cnut intended that Roskilde become an archiepiscopal see. Cnut's charter to the monks of Ely in 1022 was witnessed by Gerbrand who was identified as "Roscylde parochiae Danorum gentis."28 In this charter, Gerbrand witnessed in third place behind the two English archbishops and before any of the English bishops. In the normal order of precedence this would mean Gerbrand was considered more important than the English bishops and thus intended for metropolitan status. Cnut also appointed two other bishops, Bernhard for Scania and Reginbert for Fyn. Archbishop Unwan of Hamberg-Bremen took offense. Gerbrand was captured and "persuaded by necessity," he promised obedience to Unwan rather than Æthelnoth of Canterbury.29

    If Cnut did indeed intend to raise Roskilde to metropolitan status, Unwan's concerns were valid since it could have meant he would lose archiepiscopal status.30 Gerbrand acted as a mediator between Cnut and Unwan which resulted in Cnut's acceptance of the authority of Hamberg-Bremen over his Danish church.31 According to Adam, clerics from Hamberg-Bremen were appointed by the archbishop to succeed the English when they were no longer in office.32

    The level of organization in the Danish church increased during Cnut's reign due to its association with the ancient church of England. According to tradition, Cnut established the payment of Peter's Pence from Denmark as was already customary in England.33 This may have been a result of Cnut's negotiations with the Pope during his trip to Rome in 1027. His letter to the English people reported that he had reaffirmed that Peter's pence would be paid regularly by the English church.34 Cnut did not establish regular episcopal sees in the rest of Scandinavia. That did not happen until about 1060 and even then, the tithe was not introduced, forcing priests to demand payment for their services.35 Parish boundaries in Scandinavia are no older than the twelfth century. At that time, the tithe was established which made the boundaries significant.36

    The bishops that accompanied the Norwegian kings from England and those appointed by Cnut probably came from English monasteries. Monasteries were not established in Denmark until later so that valuable training ground for native bishops was missing.37 Danish monasticism began in the closing years of the eleventh century when twelve monks were sent from Evesham to found a monastery at Odense at the request of the Danish King Eric.38 Even after the Norman conquest, Evesham, St. Albans and Canterbury continued to maintain connections with Denmark.39

    Political considerations in Scandinavia retarded the progress of conversion and consolidation of the church after the Danish kings became involved in England. Svein's desire for independence from the German kings led him to introduce English missionary bishops and eject those from Hamberg-Bremen. Once Olaf Haraldson had established himself in Norway in opposition to Cnut, he was compelled to seek priests from Hamberg-Bremen to avoid Danish domination. The sainthood of Olaf had as much to do with resistance to Danish control of Norway as it did to his sanctity.

    The church leaders were divided. Cnut's bishop of Norway, Sigurd, urged the Norwegians to resist Olaf while Olaf's bishop Grimkell supported his return and later certified his saintliness.40 When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, Scandinavian leaders turned away from the English church and returned to full allegiance to Hamberg-Bremen until they could establish their own archiepiscopal centers.
    Cnut's church policies in Scandinavia continued the progress toward an established church, but political struggles in Norway and to a lesser degree with the German empire prevented significant progress. National churches were not securely established until greater political stability had been reached.

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    Another lost web page. The Church of England did exert an influence upon the Church of Denmark, the Church of Norway and the Church of Sweden, as well as the Church of Iceland and Church of Finland. All of the patron saints have some English history to them, but this is just one type of example. Cnut IV the Holy was martyred trying to raise troops to liberate the English from Norman oppression. Olaf II the Holy was martyred reclaiming his kingdom, allied to England against the Danes who were to defeat both of them. Erik IX the Holy and Bishop Henry were murdered in the wake of the Finnish Crusade, organised from England. Also, the kings preferred English priests because it allowed them a measure of autonomy, whereas those from Germany expected bureaucratic stratification across the theoretical international spread of the Holy Roman Empire.

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