Okay, I just read yet another “Asatru for Beginners” book that makes the erroneous claim that Iceland was the heroic last holdout of Germanic Heathenry in Europe against the onslaught of Christianity, and I just can’t take it any more. In the interests of the dissemination of fact, here’s the actual timeline of Christianization in northern Europe. Naturally, dates are approximate in some cases, but these are the accepted dates among scholars.
- 238-390: Gothic tribes (Visigoths, Ostrogoths), Burgundians, and Vandals are converted to (Arian) Christianity.
- 591: Augustine becomes first Archbishop of Canterbury. Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons begins with mass baptism of 10,000.
- 686: Arwald, last Heathen Anglo-Saxon king, dies.
- 700: Anglo-Saxons are converted by this time.
- 718: Willibrod begins conversion efforts in southern Denmark.
- 777: Conversion of the Saxons (in modern-day Germany) by Charlemagne begins.
- 800: Carolingian (Frankish) Empire is converted by this time, largely with help from Anglo-Saxon missionaries.
- 813: Due in part by the preaching of Christianity in the vernacular rather than Latin, Saxons are converted by this time.
- 830: Ansgar becomes first missionary to Sweden.
- 935: Harald Bluetooth allows Christian missionaries in Denmark.
- 960: Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark, converts to Christianity. Most Danes convert within 20-40 years.
- 980: Christian missionaries begin to visit Iceland.
- 990: King Olof becomes first Christian king of Sweden.
- 995: Olaf Tryggvason becomes king of Norway. Norway becomes nominally Christian, pressure is put on Iceland to convert.
- 1000: Iceland officially becomes Christian. Public displays of Heathen worship are forbidden. Private Heathen worship is forbidden soon thereafter.
- 1030: Olaf Tryggvason dies. Norway is now converted by this time.
- 1047: Bernhard Sakseren becomes first missionary bishop to the Faroe Islands.
- 1100: Faroe Islands are converted. Almost all of Sweden is converted by this time.
- 1123: Småland in Sweden becomes the last pocket of Heathens to be officially converted by Sigurd the Crusader.
- 1249: Birger Jarl of Sweden annexes and forces the conversion of Finland.
- 1386: Conversion of Lithuania begins.
- 1417: Lithuania is officially Christian by this time. Pagan beliefs and practices survive sub rosa for some time.
So the broad order of conversion is:
- England / Anglo-Saxons
- France / Franks
- Germany / Saxons
- Faroe Islands
- Most of Sweden
- Rest of Sweden
Naturally, Heathen practices survived among the peasants far past the year that the king converted, and remnants survived even past the dates given as the time “the rest of the country converted”. But on the whole, that’s the timeline. Iceland wasn’t a particularly staunch defender of Heathenry.
So the next time that someone tells you how Iceland was the last hold-out of Heathenry in Europe, you’ll know the truth of the matter. Iceland converted because it wanted to get in King Olaf’s good graces, but his own country wasn’t even converted for another 30 years. And Sweden came far later!