Monday, August 16, 2010

History Through the Eyes of . . . Alcuin of York: Viking Troubles, 8th Century

Randall Stephens

The famous Northumbrian scholar Alcuin (ca.735 - 804) left a record of Viking raids on England. Norseman laid waste to monasteries and villages. The feared seafarers set up colonies and made swept across Europe from the 9th to the 11th century. They were in Iceland by 900, and later tried to establish a foothold in Greenland and North America.

To Alcuin, the Viking scourge looked like history repeating itself. In this 793 letter--written from the Carolingian court to the Bishop and community of Lindsfarne--Alcuin laments the Viking menace and meditates on the problem and nature of suffering.

Excerpt from I. R. Page, Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials, Myths (Toronto: British Museum Press, 1995), 79.

When I was with you the closeness of your love would give me great joy. In contrast, now I am away from you the distress of your suffering fills me; daily with deep grief, when heathens desecrated God's sanctuaries, and poured the blood of saints within the compass of the altar, destroyed the house of our hope, trampled the bodies of saints in God's temple like animal dung in the street. What we say except weep with you in our hearts before the altar of Christ and say, "Spare thy people O Lord and give not thine heritage to the Gentiles lest heathens should say, 'Where is the God of the Christians?'"

What security is there for the churches of Britain if St Cuthbert with so great a throng of saints will not defend his own? Either this is the beginning of greater grief or the sins of those who live there have brought it upon themselves. This indeed has not happened by
chance; it is a sign that someone has well deserved it . . .

Do not be cut to the heart by this terrible plight. "God chasteneth every son whom he receiveth." You he chastened more severely since he loved you more deeply. Jerusalem, God's beloved city, with its temple of God perished in Chaldean flames. Rome, encircled by the crown of saints, apostles and martyrs without number, was destroyed by the savagery of pagans but quickly recovered through the loving understanding of God. The whole of Europe almost was made a desert by the swords and flames of Goths or Huns. But now, God being merciful, it glitters with churches like the heavens with stars; and the observances of the Christian religion
thrive and grow.

For more, see:

Vikings, BBC

Stefan Lovgren, "Sagas" Portray Iceland's Viking History," National Geographic News, May 7, 2004.

Esaias Tegnér, Fridthjof's Saga: A Norse Romance (Chicago, 1901).

The Orkneyinga Saga (Edinburgh, 1873)

Vinland Archeology, Smithsonian.

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