1 October 2009 Early Religious Practice in the Greenland Settlement
Lesley Abrams
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While the beginnings of Christianity in Greenland are very poorly recorded, the settlement has played a prominent role in the discussion of paganism, the conversion, and early Christianity in the Viking world, thanks to the sagas in which Greenlanders feature. In particular, the range of religious practice that is reflected in the literary representations of the past is very striking; the rituals of the seeress, Thorbjorg, the Christian practice of Eric's wife, Thjodhild, and Gudrid's pilgrimage to Rome and profession as a nun offer contrasting perceptions of lived religion in the late Viking Age. While the absence of other relevant sources relating to Greenland is clearly a disadvantage, it leaves us free to question entrenched assumptions about the early religious life of the community.

While, as elsewhere, the conversion to Christianity in Greenland would have had a practical impact, ranging from the creation of political and economic alliances to changes in social custom (including burial and memorialization), I argue in this paper that Greenland might have been somewhat different from other Scandinavian communities overseas. Discussing and drawing on the written and material record, I propose that we might gain from resisting the narrative of Christian convention, which requires sudden, dramatic, and emphatic change, in favor of a different understanding of religious practice. If we entertain the possibility that some societies may have had more room for religious diversity than Christian sources would allow, it could be argued that the early community of Greenland, instead of conforming to Christian stereotype, experienced an extended period of diversity; a mixed society encompassing traditional religious practice and a largely domestic Christianity could have continued for some time until Christianity gained a sufficient degree of institutionalization to impose a more conventional Christian way of life.

Lesley Abrams "Early Religious Practice in the Greenland Settlement," Journal of the North Atlantic 2(sp2), 52-65, (1 October 2009). https://doi.org/10.3721/037.002.s207
Published: 1 October 2009
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