I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

RELIGION

What many people think we know about the Norse religion was written down some two or three-hundred years after the close of the Viking Age by Snorri Sturluson, a Christian writer, for a Christian audience. He adopted many oral tales and wrote new ones that has more to do with Christian than with heathen theology.

The so-called Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was done in the late fourth century at the direction of  Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina collection of biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. The term “Vulgate” refers to the common tongue, which was used to describe the Latin tongue. Although it is called the Saint Jerome translation, it is conceivable that he did not translate it; but it remained the standard Latin translation until the sixteenth century, when strict Church authority over editions lessened, and further editing and interpretations were seen.

Although the translation of the Bible into common tongue from the Vulgate was later forbidden and deem heretical, leading to a great extent  to the rise of the protestant faiths, it was commonly done during the Viking age and was routinely known as a gloss. Some editions of the Vulgate had the English translation–or gloss–written upon the page between the lines of the Latin.

Jesus was accepted as a god by many heathen Norse, but he was one deity among many, which irritated the Christian church. We are told in J. Sephton’s 1895 translation The Saga of King Olaf Tryggwason that:

“Helgi the Lean…was a Christian in name, but his faith was a very mixed one; for though he was baptized, and declared his belief in Christ, he made vows to Thor whenever he was engaged in seafaring, or any matter that required hardihood.”

The so-called Fenris cross was a tenth-century cross from Iceland and is probably a sample of what I refer to as a “Hedge Your Bets” cross. It features a Þor’s hammer with a Fenris Wolf at the top and a cross carved into the hammer itself. Some do not accept that interpretation, noting that crosses were used as motifs in heathen times without referring to Christianity.

Vikings did become Christians, but it is altogether possible that they also converted to Islam and to Judaism, though there is only a handful of such incidents recorded.

Early, “local” saints were just recognized as such as people in the area, and a person who was a saint in one area was not necessarily considered a saint in another. Saint Udalric was canonized by Pope John XV in 993 but some maintain that the first papal canonization was Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804. Both local and papal canonization continued until 1153, and in 1170, only papal canonizations were thenceforth permitted.

There were three basic tonsures. These were shaving of the head done for religious purposes, and medieval monasteries even dictated who would use the hottest water for shaving.

With the Oriental method, the whole head was shaved. This was common in the Eastern Churches, though not in the Western Church. For example, Theodore of Tarsus—schooled in Byzantium—allowed his hair to grow out before being tonsured in the Roman style when he was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.

The Celtic style involved shaving the head from ear to ear, but there are no illustrations of the exact shape. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the Roman church, and some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that allegedly worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. it ended with the Synod of Whitby in 660, where Roman Christianity triumphed over Celtic.

In the predominant Roman tonsure, only the top of the head was shaved, allowing the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This was almost universally see in the Viking age.

The preaching cross is a cross—sometimes wooden and sometimes stone, sometimes surmounting a pulpit—originally erected before the construction of churches to designate a place where a preacher would preach and where worshipers might gather top hear him. Some of the stone crosses have elaborate carving and runes, incorporating heathen as well as Christian motifs, and some still exist today, with a church built around them or perhaps moved to a church.

Chastity often referred to legal sexual relations, and priests were allowed to wed until th eleventh century, although it was frowned upon by the Church itself. In the eleventh century, it was outright forbidden.

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