Missioning or looting – Insular and continental sacred objects in Viking Age contexts in Norway

An intriguing book had been published by Egil Mikkelsen dealing with the question if insular and continental material, mostly metalwork, found in pagan Viking graves in Norway had been looted from churches and monasteries on the British Isles and the Continent or were brought by missionaries from the Continent to Norway.

Egil Mikkelsen argus that the type of objects found in pagan graves point to missionaries who took these kind of objects with them on their missions in Norway. One of the things he puts forward is the assumption that hanging bowls were used for baptism. The sacred objects from the graves may thus originate from the many unsuccesful mission attempts in Norway throughout the Viking Age.

Throughout the book, Egil Mikkelsen is stating here and there, that we cannot say that is something wasn’t mentioned in the sources, it did not happen. Of course, that might be so, but he almost addresses is as it then actually did happen. In my opinion that is a stretch too far. Of course it is true, that a lot of source material got lost in the centuries after the Viking Age, but that is not to say that that is proof of things happening. The other objective against his thesis is the dismissal of looting a – viking and his thesis that it happende on-land, as a kind of looting on the spot during missionary work. He is absolutely right in stating that looting from monasteries was a practice long before what we call the Viking Age. In fact, monasteries were fighting against other monasteries themselves and looting was a part of that, lest we forget !

I bring up another idea, wich might be revolutionary indeed. Like us, the vikings or men from the North, liked antique ! Finding an antique item from earlier eraly medieval centuries in graves or in the soil in areas where they lived is witness to that. Of course there have been some looting. But where is the idea of trade? Of exchange? Where is the possibility that Vikings (or: people from the North from the Viking Age) collect antiquities in a more let’s say lofty way? As they liked antiquity, the exotic and the art from other parts of the world they met? Was the mission met with violence, or – little by little – the curiosity involved with the objects wich accompanied that service? Who’s not attracted to glitter and gold.

A lot of missionaries must have been looted from their goods, considering the finds wich appeared to be quite standard on this assumption. I just don’t believe that or at least not to be the whole of the story. By the way: why could hanging bowls not have been every day using objects. Sacral and profane? I think Looting or missioning is too much of the kind of publication wich drives to the occasion without giving alternative thoughts. Nevertheless it is a beautiful book, showing us a diverse scale of Insular early medieval objects.

One could easily get greedy of them !

Gepubliceerd door Thomas Kamphuis

Gepassioneerd Vikingtijd, natuur en cultuur liefhebber.

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