Vikings And Christianity

This essay sample on Vikings And Christianity provides all necessary basic info on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.

Viking paganism, with its human sacrifices, bloody rituals and numerous gods, instilled fear into the hearts of many Christians and diluted the Christian faith with their ‘lore of trolls, giants, dwarves and elves’ as mentioned by Viking historian Martin Arnold[1]. With raids in the 9th century and onwards focusing on religious centres across Europe e.

g. monasteries and churches, many feared an attack on Christianity, and a threat to religious unity.

With early attacks on the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793, where ‘Vikings slaughtered some of the monks, robbed and burned the monastery’ according to Johannes Bronsted’s book, and other seemingly religious attacks on Iona and Kintyre in Scotland, it seemed Christianity was under attack. [2] Raids continued throughout Western Europe through the 9th century, yet religious motives seemed not to be on the forefront of most Vikings’ minds.

As Gwyn Jones’ states ‘Viking motives overseas were routed in human nature’, with motives ranging from ‘land to farm, wealth to make life splendid’ and even for merely ‘dignity and fame’[3].

Therefore it can be said that many monasteries and religious institutions were merely targeted for their wealth, not as a pagan attack on the Christian faith. There are little to no records of the Vikings ever forcibly converting people to paganism, when they settled they usually dissolved into other cultures.

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However, with the brutality and viciousness of some documented raids such as the raids on Paris (885-886), it is understandable why people feared for their faith.

Why Did The Vikings Attack Churches And Monasteries

Yet the Christian Church was never defeated as the cultural and spiritual centre of Europe and paganism remained a minority, one that would slowly die a quiet death along with many other Viking traditions, as the age slowly drew to a close on the dawn of the globalisation of Christianity. The Vikings were Pagans, following and praying to many gods, such as Thor, Odin and Freyja, each playing different roles in Viking culture and life. Norse paganism had no orthodoxy of belief and no figurehead, therefore was hugely dissimilar to the Christian faith. Accounts of the Christian King of East Anglia, St.

Edmund’s, death in 855 is a brutal account of Danish and pagan ferocity against a particular Christian individual, even using him as target practice before murdering him[4]. Incidents like this, led to a growing sense of fear among Christians regarding the Viking ‘heathens’. Thus, being Pagans, Vikings had no religious respect for holy institutions of Christianity, raiding vulnerable monastic sites such as Lindisfarne, Skye and Rathlin. However, although to the monks inhabiting these areas this may look like a direct Norse attack on European Christianity, this was not the case.

It can be proven that Viking attacks on churches were not of religious origins, as ‘poorer churches and communities were left alone at the expense of richer establishments’ and the choices of attacking the richer institutes was ‘pragmatic rather than ideologically motivated’[5]. It also should be noted that religious artefacts held no meaning to the Vikings, and the majority were left in place, showing that theses raids were economically motivated, not for religious desecration.

It should also be acknowledged, that the monks writing the accounts of Viking raids, may be prone to exaggeration, which may have fuelled the fear on the Scandinavian traders, and increase paranoia, especially in coastal regions. A monk Simeon of Durham described a brutal raid ‘they miserably ravaged and pillaged everything; they trod the holy things under their polluted feet, the dug down the alters and plundered all the treasures of the church. [6]’ For local people hearing these kinds of accounts, the told defilement of religious objects mentioned, would more than likely appear as a siege on Christian establishments.

Therefore, it is understandable why people may have believed the Viking raids were religiously motivated, although much destruction and bloodshed was involved, the raids were sporadic and often targeted non religious places also. We now know that the Vikings main driving force was wealth, leading to their attraction to the monasteries. The Vikings did not threaten Christianity with their raids, merely instilled fear of their own religion into Christians, attacking the physical aspects of the Church, rather than a crusade against the Christian faith itself.

Yet, in the case of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, it can be said the Vikings threatened Christianity to a greater extent there than the rest of Europe, as the Empire was already in a fragile and precarious state and therefore a more inviting target for Viking raiders. The raids on Francia were interpreted as religiously motivated, with monks believing ‘the invasions represented a punishment for the Frank’s sins in fulfilment of biblical prophecy’[7]. Many of the documented raids written by Frankish monks describe the Vikings as ‘pagani’, indicating supposed religious motivation behind the attacks.

The raids certainly acted as a catalyst in the decline of the Carolingian Empire as well as religious unity within the country, yet H. Zettel argues that although the raids contributed to the fragmentation of Carolingia, they were not a form of ‘militant paganism’ and therefore not religiously motivated[8]. Although other historians disagree with this notion, with Wallace- Hadrill stating paganism was indeed an important driving factor behind the raids, and the Vikings viewed raids on Francia as its own ‘holy war’[9].

Yet we also have to take into consideration that many other factors also contributed to the fall of the Carolingians, and Christianity continued in France long after the Vikings refrained from raiding Frankish shores, leading to the observation that the threat could never have been extensive, as Christianity was never defeated in the country. However this did not stop the overall feeling of fear and persecution in Francia, and the Viking raids acted as a catalyst in the fall of one of Europe’s superpowers.

The main threat to Christianity in Carolingia stemmed mainly from the Franks own theology regarding the Viking attacks, considering them a sign towards the apocloypse and ‘that the last days were at hand’, and there fear of ‘a general lapse back into Germanic paganism’[10]. This led to religious panic and combined with the Frankish civil wars led to an overall defeat in morale and religious unity. The Vikings played a role in the fragmenting of the Carolingian Empire, threatening Christianity to an extent that broke people’s faith and had them doubting their lives, believing the end was nigh.

However, if this was an intentional tactic by the Vikings is hard to decipher. It is clear that Christianity in the Carolingian Empire was definitely damaged by the Vikings, as can be seen in the apocalyptic thoughts of the time so a threat was definitely posed, but not a great enough one to defeat Christianity for good or convert people to their pagan ways. The Vikings most likely unintentionally, contributed to the end of one of the world’s great superpowers, threatening Christianity in the short term, and terrorising people to such an extent, some prayed for the apocalypse, leading to an overall threat to Christian unity.

Another important point to take into account is the Vikings conversion to Christianity themselves, with baptism of Danes starting in 823. This leads to the question of how much of a threat could the Vikings have been causing to Christianity if slowly but surely they were being Christianised themselves? King Harald was baptized in 826, proving the dawning of Christianity in Scandinavia. The notion that Christianity was spreading through Scandinavia however can actually be used as an argument for or against the threat the Vikings posed to the faith.

For one, especially during the late 9th century, the Vikings may have been less inclined to attack religious institutions, yet conversely the infiltration of Christianity may fuel the hatred of those still Pagan, and further draw Viking raiders to using Churches as targets, therefore still proving a threat. However, the process of Christianisation in Scandinavia was a long, drawn out process, and according to J. Frederick Hodgetts, paganism was never truely defeated. He states ‘they had been clad in Christian guise, it is true, but their origin is Pagan, and Pagan they remain’[11].

This may mean the threat to Christianity, although a benign one, only died when paganism did, as long as pagan traditions remained so did the lurking threat. However this goes back to the argument, that paganism had little or nothing to do with the raids, so the Christianisation of Scandinavia was an evolved movement, casting water over any sparks of pagan threat that might still be alight, even if paganism still remained in the minority, once the majority began to turn to Christianity, the threat was nonexistent, if there ever had been one in the first place.

The 9th century however was merely the beginning of a colossal religious transformation, but one that should be noted in relation to the threat posed to Christianity. It seems that the threat was diminishing before it even started with Christian missions being sent to Scandinavia maybe as early as 710. As said by DuBois in his book detailing the long conversion to Christianity ‘The Viking age was a time of consolidation: an ear in which a variety of pre Christian belief systems diminished in number’ clearly referring the paganism and the ‘threat’ that accompanied it.

DuBois makes the point that all non Christians in the 9th century were depicted as ‘enemies, prone to violence, acts of deviousness, ignorance and sometimes utter stupidity’ and that these’ non Christians’ in Scandinavia all fell under the term ‘pagan’[12]. Yet with Christianity being infiltrated into Scandinavia almost as soon as the Viking age began, it can be said that as soon as these ‘non Christians’ were converted, the threat of these ‘enemies’ and their acts of ‘deviousness’ were diminished.

The overall threat the Vikings posed to Christianity in the 9th century was being counter acted from the very beginning by their own conversion, a struggle which would eventually tame the Vikings, and exterminate a threat that concerned only the physical nature of the Church, Christianity remained alight in Europe long after the Vikings had been absorbed into the faith themselves. Overall, it would see that these various points direct towards a conclusion of a small yet terrifying threat to Christianity during the 9th century.

Yet the fragmentation of Carolingia was due to many factors and not just the brutal Viking raids, however they did play a major role. But Christianity was never threatened within Francia, with it being the main religion still to this day. The question is what constitutes to a threat on Christianity, is it a threat to Christian unity in the community, a threat to peoples personal faith, or a threat to the institution itself.

In some senses, the Vikings did all of these, threatening Christian unity in the Carolingian empire, breaking already fragile communities into terrified groups, which also led to people believing apocalyptic thoughts and questioning their own faith. The Vikings threatened mainly the religious metaphors and symbols of the Church, yet for completely non religious motives. The institute of Christianity was never really threatened.

An attack on the papacy was never carried out and most areas remained untouched by Viking raids. The 9th century yes was a tumultuous time for those being affected by Viking raids, but it is impossible to say that the threat to Christianity was anything more than terror tactics, by an actually well advanced race, rather than an attempted extermination of Christians by forced conversion to paganism.

In conclusion the threat to Christianity in the 9th century was definitely present in theory, but never manifested itself into a direct siege on the church and was an almost un intentional threat. Paganism slowly died out, and Christianity remained the dominant force in Europe, and one the Vikings themselves gradually succumbed to. The ninth century ended, with Christianity still intact, as it was before and would be for over a thousand years to come.

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Vikings And Christianity. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Vikings And Christianity
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