Yesterday I listened to the Librivox public domain audiobook of the saga of Eric the Red’s settlement of Greenland, and the luck that Leif the Lucky and his friends had in Vinland. I highly recommend this eye-opening translation and reading. It is amazing stuff.
Anyway, cool as it was to hear about the Norse seeress prophesying in Greenland and the feuds of various families, or what the Inuit thought of the men of the longships, or that pagan poet sacrificing to Thor somewhere in Newfoundland… the really interesting bit was learning about the motivations of Leif the Lucky. I did a report on Leif back in 3rd or 4th grade, and thought I knew a lot about him. But once again, the primary source material is much better than the derivative material.
There were a few Christians on Greenland in the early days; the beautiful young Gudrid was one of them. But Eirik the Red and his family, and most of the other settlers, were pagan. Leif apparently converted while out seeking his fortune.
Leif had sailed to Norway, and was there with King Olaf Tryggvason… He joined the body-guard of King Olaf Tryggvason, and the king formed an excellent opinion of him, and it appeared to him that Leif was a well-bred man. Once upon a time the king entered into conversation with Leif, and asked him, “Dost thou purpose sailing to Greenland in summer?” Leif answered, “I should wish so to do, if it is your will.” The king replied, “I think it may well be so; thou shalt go my errand, and preach Christianity in Greenland.” Leif said that he was willing to undertake it, but that, for himself, he considered that message a difficult one to proclaim in Greenland. But the king said that he knew no man who was better fitted for the work than he. “And thou shalt carry,” said he, “good luck with thee in it.” “That can only be,” said Leif, “if I carry yours with me.”
Leif set sail as soon as he was ready. He was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also the trees which were called maples; and they gathered of all this certain tokens; some trunks so large that they were used in house-building.
Leif came upon men who had been shipwrecked, and took them home with him, and gave them sustenance during the winter. Thus did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky. Leif reached land in Eiriksfjordr, and proceeded home to Brattahlid. The people received him gladly. He soon after preached Christianity and Catholic truth throughout the land, making known to the people the message of King Olaf Tryggvason; and declaring how many renowned deeds and what great glory accompanied this faith.
Eirik took coldly to the proposal to forsake his religion, but his wife, Thjodhild, promptly yielded, and caused a church to be built not very near the houses. The building was called Thjodhild’s Church; in that spot she offered her prayers, and so did those men who received Christ, and they were many.
After she accepted the faith, Thjodhild would have no intercourse with Eirik, and this was a great trial to his temper.
(I had to include the last part, because it’s funny! And it ties in, a little later, to why Eirik didn’t end up going to Vinland even though he wanted to go — lack of communication between husband and wife.)
So now you know. Leif discovered America while on his way home to preach the faith to pagan Greenland as a lay missionary. Did you learn this in school? Did you see this on the History Channel? No?
Also, Leif wasn’t the only missionary whom King Olaf sent out. He also sent some examples of muscular Christianity!
Now, before this, when Leif was with King Olaf Tryggvason, and the king had requested him to preach Christianity in Greenland, he gave him two Scotch people: the man called Haki, and the woman called Hækja. The king requested Leif to have recourse to these people if ever he should want fleetness, because they were swifter than wild beasts. Eirik and Leif had got these people to go with Karlsefni. Now, when they had sailed by Furdustrandir, they put the Scotch people on land, and requested them to run into the southern regions, seek for choice land, and come back after three half-days were passed.
They were dressed in such wise that they had on the garment which they called biafal. It was made with a hood at the top, open at the sides, without sleeves, and was fastened between the legs. A button and a loop held it together there; and elsewhere they were without clothing.
Then did they cast anchors from the ships, and lay there to wait for them. And when three days were expired the Scotch people leapt down from the land, and one of them had in his hand a bunch of grapes, and the other an ear of wild wheat. They said to Karlsefni that they considered they had found good and choice land. Then they received them into their ship, and proceeded on their journey to where the shore was cut into by a firth.
I’ll leave the land of the Monopods, for you to discover! But it’s a very medieval and Christian saga, I’m telling you.