The Westward Movement of Northern Insular Culture and Christianity in the Middle Ages: A Critical Review of Archaeological and Literary Sources on the Faroes, Iceland and Norse Greenland in Relation to Churches and Christianity in Norse Greenland

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This important study will help shed light on the relatively obscure developments of the spread of Christianity into the edges of the Northern world during the early Middle Ages. The author uses a wide variety of original sources including historical records, recent archaeological finds, his keen understanding of the languages and religion of the people of that time which adds to the significance of the research in this remarkable book.


“This book is informative about a world that is still considerably hidden in mist and as such sparks our interest in the Christian and cultural world of our western or “Celtic” ancestors who were raised on the islands of the North Atlantic. His research will surely be treasured by the group of readers who value the history of Christianity on these islands.”
-Dr. Vilborg Auður Ísleifsdóttir Bickel,
Ph.D. in Medieval and Reformation Church History

“Ingason has done a very good job in collecting, commenting on and evaluating critically different kinds of sources and references to insular Christianity among the early Nordic settlers in Faroes Islands, Iceland and Greenland…It will certainly become an inspiration for new generations of researchers in different disciplines…[it] demands a re-evaluation of the conservative nationalistic interpretations of the earliest history of human living in especially Iceland and Nordic Greenland.”
-Pétur Pétursson,
Professor of Practical Theology,
University of Iceland
“Research on the Christianization of Iceland has traditionally been devoted to the event when the Christian religion was adopted as the official religion by the Icelandic parliament in 1000 A.D…very little has been paid to the initial movement of the religion to the islands and the origin of its different branches…Ingason deals with this neglected part of the Christianization process…by examining the process through the lenses of theology, archeology and history, he makes the picture of it more holistic than has been done before.”
-Dr. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir,
Professor of Archaeology,
National Museum & University of Iceland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations / Foreword / Acknowledgments
Introduction:Opening up and Expanding Borders
Chapter 1: Ancient Church Sites

Ancient Church Sites in the Faroe Islands
Circular Churchyards in the Faroe Islands and Insular Resemblances of Early Ecclesiastical Sites in the North Atlantic Isles
Insular Cross Types in the Faroes
Conclusive Evidence of Pre-Viking Habitation in the Faroes
Ancient Churches in Iceland
Christian Graves Showing Pagan Influence
Two Church Types
Idealistic Picture of the Conversion in Iceland
Missionary Bishops
Icelandic Turf Churches
Geirsstaðakiirkja and Stangarkirkja (Geirsstaðir and Stöng Churches)
More Early Icelandic Churches
More on Circular Churchyards
Chapter 2: The Making of the Icelandic Nation
Archaeological Evidence
Papar, the Earliest Settlers of Iceland?
Archaelogical Search for Papar in Iceland
Criticism of Ari’s Report on the Settlement
Settlers With a Mixed Background
Insular Irish-Scottish Settlers in Iceland
Areas in Iceland Peopled from Irish-Scottish Lands
Impact of Irish-Scottish Tales and Literature
Genetic Influences
Was a Pagan Icelandic State a Factor in the Settlement of Greenland?
Christians Leaving Iceland for Greenland?
Chapter 3: Literary Sources
A. Latin Sources
Papal Bulls
Historia Norvegiae
B. Early Icelandic Sources,br> Íslendingabók (Libellus Islandorum)
Kristni Saga, The Saga of Christianization
C. The Saga of Icelanders
The Greenland and Vinland Sagas
The Focus of the Saga
Questions on Missions and Christianization in Greenland
Unclear Combinations of Events
Rough Connections
Heimskringla’s Account
Critical Examination
An Unhistorical Mission
Grænlendinga saga, the Saga of Greenlanders
Alike yet Different Sagas
Ambiguous Religious Practices and Experiences in the Greenland Sagas
Varðlokur (Ward Enticers)
Appearances at Lýsufjörður
A Crew Chosen for their Height?
A Strange Custom
The Beached Whale,br> Appearance of a Woman
Baptism of Skræling Boys
The Fatal Sea of Worms
Insular Sensitivity
Grænlendinga ?áttur, “The Story of Einar Sokkason”
D. Literary Sources on the Topography of Greenlandic Churches
Ívar Bárðarson’s “Description of Greenland”
Early Topographical Research
Chapter 4: A Few Archaeological Signposts in Greenland
Nørlund’s Excavation at Herjólfsnes
Nørlund’s Excavation at Garðar
Cloicthech, a Bell House?
A Bishop’s Grave
Dýrneskirkja, Brattahlíðarkirkja
and Two Small Churches
The Best Preserved Church
A Church Chronology
A More Definite Topography
Vebæk’s Convent Excavations
Discoveries of Small Churches
Greenland Church Types
Qorlortoq Type Churches
Churches with a Narrow Chancel
Rectangular Churches
A Shift in Direction of the East-West Axis
Chapter 5: The Spiritual and Religious Culture in Greenland
Tokens of Faith in Greenland
Virgin Mary Devotion in Iceland and Greenland
Virgin Mary at Calvary
Crosses from Herjólfsnes
More Recent Finds
A Relevant Faith
European Affinities
Monastic Devotion
Chapter 6: Church Organization in Ancient Greenland
Under the Norwegian Archbishopric
Submission to Foreign Rule
A Mission for the Execution of Ecclesiastical Law?
Greenlandic Bishops in Icelandic Annals
Increased Distance and Isolation
Faith so Essential for Survival
Latest Reports
Chapter 7: Overview and Conclusion

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