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Christianity was the established religion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms when the Vikings first arrived in the late 8th century.

Although many reenactors are keen to portray non-Christian characters, the spread of Christianity into Scandinavia began in the first half of the ninth century. While initial success was limited, by the mid tenth century Denmark was ruled by the emphatically Christian Harald Bluetooth; by 1031 (only a year after his death) King Olaf Haraldsson was venerated as a saint.

The viking armies which settled and ruled the 'Danelaw' region from the last quarter of the ninth century onwards appear to have converted to Christianity relatively quickly. This may have been a pragmatic decision - for a numerically small elite, adopting the religion of the men and women who farmed their fields, prepared their meals and looked after their children removed a prominent source of disquiet.

Christianity in the Celtic World

Ireland, Wales and Cornwall converted to Christianity long before the arrival of the Vikings or even the Saxons before them. Christianity first reached the shores of Britain with the Romans but it was proselytised most widely following the collapse of the Empire when Saints and Missionaries from Iona and other large monastic centres worked to bring their faith across the British Isles.

While the differences between 'Celtic' Christianity and the Roman Church can be overstated (in most respects both were in agreement) there were some differences which would at times lend a religious edge to conflicts between Brythonic peoples and the incoming Saxons - Bishop Aldhelm of Wessex sent an acrimonious letter to King Geraint of Dumnonia (modern day Devon and Cornwall) regarding the British clergies continued variation from Rome just prior to a new flare up in conflict between Wessex and the western Britons.

Key Features of the Celtic Church

The main conflict between 'British' Christianity and that of Rome was on the method for calculating the date of Easter. This was eventually resolved in most areas between the 7th and 8th Centuries during a series of Synods.

There was also variation in the tonsure, or how the hair was cut to identify men of the church. While the Roman church favoured a circular shaved area in the centre (think of Friar Tuck in any depiction) the British churches preferred a tonsure cut 'from ear to ear' though the exact look of this is not made clear. While this also began to disappear as the Roman church expanded its influence and began to centralise authority, the variant tonsure may have been present in Cornwall as late as the 9th Century.

Finally, the organisation of the church was fundamentally different. While the Roman church relied on a hierarchy where significant power rested in Bishops based in urban centres, the areas that the Celtic Church served lacked the necessary infrastructure to make this possible, and as such large monasteries with Abbots wielding significant power are much more common in the Brythonic world. Additionally, while we refer to a 'Celtic Church' it is really a loose collection of different religious orders and traditions that follow similar broad rules rather then a single organisation.


This category has the following 4 subcategories, out of 4 total.




Pages in category ‘Christianity’

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