Eric the Red - George Upton

Leif, Son of Erik, Becomes a Christian

Arius, the polymathist, has handed down a detailed narrative of an important event, the authority for which is his grandfather, Thorkell Gellerson, who was a companion of Erik on his expedition to Greenland. In the fourteenth or fifteenth year of the settlement in that region, Leif, Erik's eldest son, made a business journey to Drontheim.

Shortly after his arrival he learned that King Olaf Trygvasson had come to Halogaland, and at once betook himself to Olaf's palace, where he was handsomely entertained. King Olaf was accustomed to extend special hospitality to distinguished heroes, with the well-meant intention of convincing them during their stay, by the efforts of priests and other Christian scholars, of the folly of paganism and of the truth and happiness of the Christian religion. He well knew that if he could win over the great men of the country the common people would quickly follow their example. He also possessed all the characteristics which would attract a genuine Norman. He was the ideal of a Northern hero and sovereign.

Olaf was tall of stature, unusually handsome, and exceedingly strong. In the use of weapons, both with the right and left hand, in swimming, rowing, and mountain climbing, no one surpassed him. He could catch arrows and javelins with either hand and at the same time hurl them back with both. Besides this, he was exceedingly genial and fond of fun, friendly and affable, generous and a lover of display, full of courage and resolution, but under some circumstances irascible and imprudent.

One must acknowledge that some of the methods which he adopted for the spread of Christianity in the North are open to criticism. In his religious zeal he sometimes went too far, for when he did not succeed in making conversions by legitimate means he not only resorted to gifts and marital schemes but employed threats, cunning devices, force, and penalties such as banishment, imprisonment, and even execution in order to induce the heathen to accept the Christian religion. He destroyed their idols and temples that he might thus demonstrate to them the powerlessness of their divinities.

He met the resistance of heathendom by determined courage and firm handling, and thus in a short time succeeded in giving it its death blow in Norway, and subjecting the entire country to Christianity. Nor did he limit his operations to Norway. He made similar efforts in Iceland, Greenland, the Orkney, Faroe, and Shetland Islands. Upon the occasion of his passage from England to Norway in 995, he touched at the Orkneys and induced, by means nowise kindly, the Jarl Sigurd Lodwesson and his people to embrace the Christian faith and make a friendly alliance with him. Sigurd did not remain true to his friendship but adhered to the faith, and the conversion of the Shetland and Hebrides Islands, which were subject to Sigurd, followed.

We will now return to Leif, a guest at the Norwegian court. Friendly relations with the oldest son of the distinguished Greenland family were greatly desired by Olaf. He entertained Leif and his crew as welcome guests all that Winter. He had imposing services conducted in the cathedral, which he himself had built at Drontheim, and dedicated to Saint Clemens, patron of seafarers. Bishop Sigurd, whom Olaf brought from England, the priest Thorwod, and other learned clericals used their utmost efforts to bring Leif and his crew over to the teachings of Christianity and convince them of its truth. These efforts were soon successful and in the Spring of 999 Leif and his crew were baptized with imposing ceremonies. Then in company with Thorwod the priest and other clericals he returned to Greenland.

He worked with all the enthusiasm of a new convert to spread the doctrines of Christianity in Greenland and especially to convert his own family, and succeeded speedily in winning over his mother, Thorbild, his brother, and their friends and neighbors. His efforts indeed were so successful that in the next Winter Christianity had been accepted on the whole east coast of Greenland. Thorbild was so delighted that she built a church in Brattalid, which later was known as Thorbild's Church. Leif's father, Erik, on the contrary, remained unconvinced and adhered to his superstitious faith, according to some writers, to the end of his life, though others affirm he was baptized just before his death.