Vikings and Christianity

Inscription from St Marys, Castlegate

Often portrayed as pagan plunderers, there is significant evidence that the Vikings adopted the Christian beliefs of the Northumbrian natives alongside their own gods.  The pagan ritual of burying the dead with grave goods was replaced by the Christian tradition of burying them with nothing.

The Minster survived, and many of York’s churches were founded in the tenth century.  Sculptured grave markers dated to the 10th century have been found at several church sites.  Excavations discovered evidence of a small 10th century church in Aldwark, which grew into St Helen-on-the-Walls, demolished in the 1500s.

Adopting the Christian beliefs of the natives must have made life easier for the Viking settlers.  This was particularly true of commerce, as Christians were not supposed to trade with pagans.  Many Vikings took native wives, ensuring the children grew up in at least partially Christian households.

Certain coins struck at Jorvik can be interpreted as evidence of the peaceful co-existence of Vikings and Christians.  They carry the words ‘St Peter’s money’ – clearly Christian, though some of them also show the hammer of Viking god Thor.

Wulfstan, who was Archbishop of York from 931 until his death in c955, supported the Viking cause against the English more than once.  It has been suggested that he enthroned Olaf Guthfrithsson and later invited Eric Bloodaxe to become Jorvik’s (York’s) king.


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