Islands kristnande - en kritisk undersökning

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In all works on medieval Iceland, we meet the same narrative of the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, which is supposed to have taken place in the year 999 or 1000 AD. But how does this narrative stand the trial of source criticism? Radical source criticism was introduced in Nordic historiography when Lauritz Weibull published his Critical Studies in Nordic History Around the Year 1000 in 1911. To mark the centenary of this first appearance of ”the Weibull school” in Swedish historiography, I will apply Lauritz Weibull’s critical methods to the case of the conversion of Iceland in this article.

The traditional dating of the Icelandic conversion rests on one source only: Íslendingabók (“Book of the Icelanders”) by the 12th century clergyman Ari Þorgilsson hinn fróði (Ari “the wise”). Ari tells us of a conflict between pagans and Christians at the Alþingi, the central thing assembly of Iceland, and how a political compromise was reached which allowed men to continue to secretly follow heathen customs, although Christianity was adopted as official religion. Although source critical reservations are made in modern works, mostly concerning Ari’s close connection to the leading families, the details of the story are frequently repeated by modern scholars, and it is regarded as a fact that the conversion of Iceland took place as a result of a compromise around the year 1000.

Ari’s account was written around 125 years after the actions he is writing about. According to normal rules of source criticism, we cannot accept information from such a late source if we do not have any other material, closer in time to the events studied, to support it. And there is no material of this kind. There simply do not exist any sources on Iceland from such an early time. We must conclude that we have no possibility of verifying Ari’s statements.

We must search for contemporary sources. In the papal letters concerning mission in the North, Danes, Swedes and Norwegians are frequently mentioned in the early 11th century, but not Icelanders. Iceland is, e.g., omitted in the letter of Clement II of 1047, but it figures as a part of the missionary area of the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen in the letter of Leo IX in 1053. This is the first dated mention of Iceland in any written source. In a narrative source from the early 1070s, the Chronicle of the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen by Adam of Bremen, it is said that the Icelanders were converted during the archiepiscopate of Adalbert. According to Adam, the Icelanders sent a man to Bremen in the 1050s, who was consecrated bishop by Adalbert. This lends support to Ari’s information that the first Icelandic bishop, Ísleifur, was consecrated at that time.

A critical examination leads, thus, to the conclusion that, as far as we can tell from the existing sources, Iceland was made part of the Christian church in the 1050s. Very likely, a period of mission and of conflicts between Christian and pagan groups preceded this formal Christianization. There could very well be something in the story told by Ari about a compromise around the year 1000. But from a position of radical source criticism, we can only conclude that we know nothing about a possible conversion at that time.


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Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Historia


Sidor (från-till)18-37
Utgåva nummer2
StatusPublished - 2011
Peer review utfördJa