Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
Januar 17, 2000
CBC concocts politically correct Vikings
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
On New Year's Eve, CBC Television presented a vignette sketch featuring a Y2K journalist visiting the circa Y1K Viking encampment at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The general thrust of the piece was that the Norse explorers were a band of happy, peaceful pagans totally unaware of the Christian millennium concept.
Oh dear! Now even the Vikings are being purged of political incorrectness. However, if L'Anse aux Meadows is the site of Leif Ericsson's "Vinland," as is commonly asserted, its Norse inhabitants quite probably would have been aware of the first Christian millennium rollover, because Leif was a Christian.
According to Icelandic sagas, in 999 the 19-year-old Leif Ericsson sailed to Norway. Leif had been born in Iceland, but grew up in the Greenland colony founded by his father, Eric Thorwaldson ("The Red"). King Olaf Trygvesson was mightily impressed by the young Greenlander, and made him a hirdmann or member of the royal bodyguard.
The King was also an enthusiastic convert to Christianity, and took a keen interest in evangelism. During his sojourn at King Olaf's court, Leif Ericsson was baptized, and Olaf commissioned him to return to Greenland as a missionary to establish Christianity there. The next spring, (Y1K) Leif sailed for home, accompanied by several priests assigned to the mission by King Olaf.
Apparently, Leif's evangelization efforts were successful, one of his most prominent converts being his mother, Tjodhild, who is credited with building a stone church at Brattahlid where the Eric family lived - the first Christian church constructed in the New World.
Eventually there were 16 churches in the two Greenland colonies - 12 in the Eastern Settlement and four in the Western Settlement. The cathedral at Sandness, whose foundation is reportedly still visible, measured 84 feet by 60 feet. The bishop's residence was said to be even larger.
The last officiating Greenland bishop died in 1383, but a large wedding with guests from Iceland took place in 1408, and two papal letters mention church services there in 1418.
In any case, if L'Anse aux Meadows was Leif Ericsson's North American colony, the Vikings there would likely have been well-aware of the Church calendar and of the first Christian millennium rollover, although Leif's first Vinland voyage would more likely have been made in about 1003 or 1004, according to the scholars I find most convincing.
Speaking of which, I am highly skeptical about L'Anse aux Meadows being Leif's Vinland. For one thing copious amounts of grapes growing on vines in northern Newfoundland seems far-fetched, even though the planet was in a relatively warm period at the time.
I am more inclined to the theory that the Newfoundland settlement may have been built by one or more of the 11 shiploads of Icelanders that went missing from Eric the Red's thousand-person, 25-35 vessel, Greenland colonization flotilla in 986.
If the latter were the case, then the CBC's little fable would be accurate with regard to millennial non-cognizance at least. However, survivors of a shipwreck or chance landfall in 986 would have likely long since perished or left by Y1K.
As for the intrepid Ericsson, I suspect that he found his Vinland much farther south and west - possibly around Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which seems a likely match for many of the physical and climatic characteristics mentioned in the sagas. For instance, the saga relates that at Vinland days and nights were of more equal length, and that the sun shone during the evening meal time there during the shortest day of the year.
Were the Vikings peaceful? The saga accounts indicate they did not go out of their way to pick fights with aboriginal people they encountered on the Vinland voyages, but they ended up fighting several engagements anyway. The Greenlanders didn't like the locals much, calling them skraelings, which translates to "shriekers" or "screechers." Leif's brother Thorwald was killed by an arrow in a skirmish with skraelings on a voyage to Vinland.
Then there was Leif Ericsson's half-sister, Freydis, who organized and led her own Vinland voyage, fought skraelings, and ended up orchestrating the mass murder of some 30 members of her own party. But that's another movie.
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