COPPENHAGEN (Christian Examiner) – Sometimes history as it is understood by scholars is changed by happenstance – like when an amateur treasure hunter using a metal detector discovers an ancient Viking depiction of the crucified Christ.
According to the Dutch News, Dennis Fabricius Holm made the striking discovery while enjoying an afternoon of using his metal detector near the town of Aunslev, Østfyn. The crucifix, made of spun gold wire, dates to the early 10th century – the first half of the 900s.
That early date potentially could alter the timeline of when scholars believe the Vikings jettisoned their belief in Oden and Thor, among others, and converted to Christianity. A second cross, nearly identical and dating from the same period (though much less well preserved) was found in Sweden. The two together indicate a more rapid acceptance of Christianity than previously thought.
Previously, the earliest known depictions of Jesus in Nordic territories dated to AD 965 in Denmark. There, the Jelling Stones – ancient rune stones – mark the conversion of Harold "Bluetooth" Gormmson and the rest of the Vikings to Christianity. King Gormmson died in 986.
Malene Refshauge Beck, curator and archaeologist at Østfyns Museum, called the newfound cross "an absolute sensational discovery."
Christian missionaries, such as Willibrord, Ebbo and Willerich – names largely forgotten to history – worked among the Vikings beginning in the early eighth century. Most Vikings were Christians by the end of the Viking period, which is considered to have ended around the time of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
"The figure can, therefore, help to advance the time when one considers that the Danes really were Christians," Beck said. "Simply because one can say that the person who carried it here no doubt embraced the Christian faith."
The intersection of the paganism of the Vikings and Catholic Christianity are receiving significant attention as the History Channel's Vikings explores the clash of Christian Europe with Norse mythology.
The show, now in its fourth season, contains visceral depictions of bloody battles and the graphic sex that has come to characterize many paid cable channels. It introduced the first contact between Christians and the Vikings in the first season when Viking raiders, led by soon-to-be King Ragnar Lothbrok, pillaged the English coast, killing a church full of monks in the process.
The only monk spared was a character named Athelstan who, because of his previous contact with the Vikings, spoke their language. His friendship with Lothbrok allows for the introduction of Christianity into Norse culture.
Viewers also see the baptism of Lothbrok's brother and rival, Rollo, who by the fourth season is married to the daughter of Charlemagne's grandson. Rollo settled the duchy of Normandy and was the great, great, great grandfather of William the Conqueror, who led the Normans to invade England in 1066.