Small Churches and Church Organisation in Norse Greenland

Jette Arneborg, Jan Heinemeier, Niels Lynnerup

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According to Icelandic sagas Grænlendinga saga and Eirik’s saga the Norse colonies in south and southwest Greenland were established from Iceland in the later part of the 980s. Furthermore, it is stated in Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, that Christianity was introduced to the Greenlanders around 1000 on the initiative of the Norwegian king Olav Tryggvason, indicating Norwegian influence over Greenland and Norse Greenlandic dependence on Norway almost from the establishment of the colonies in Greenland. Based on the results of a radiocarbon programme focusing on the group of small churches in the central part of the Eastern Settlement which was carried out between 2001 and 2010 we suggest that majority of the Icelandic colonists were Christians already when they arrived in Greenland and that they built churches from the very beginning of settlement.
We suggest that, from the time of the initial settlement, the building of churches in Greenland were driven by the farmers themselves, and that, over time the Church developed into a centralised organisation headed by a few large landowners with close relations to the Norwegian Church and the Norwegian kings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSmall Churches in the North Atlantic
EditorsJette Arneborg, Orri Vésteinsson
PublisherThe North Atlantic Worlds, Brepols Publishers
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020

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