Were they Christian?
Some source tells that Hilary of Poitiers introduced Celtic Trinity to the Catholic Church in 4th century. That is why I began to search for more signs of Trinity in the ornaments of the time. Where they Christian? Can we see it in their symbols is the question?
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Gild silver buckle on theme Trinity from Gaard Rivaland Rogaland Norway
My friend Kjell is very interested in the question and he wants to know about early Christianity in Scandinavia. Kjell uses also the Danish S. Nancke Krogh as bandying wall since he has studied heterodox Christianity. At the same time I search for so called roots of the Edda gods since they are a reference to sort out what is old and what is medieval imagination. The Erils and their co-operation with Romans is the real issue of course.
The Christianity on one hand telling us that in "pagan" time was no order indoctrinates us all that our ancestors were wild bloodthirsty barbarians. The Catholic Church formulated the concept "heresy" out from a power position. That does not mean that there is any ethic quality in the concept and in global perspective the Catholic Church is soon outnumbered.
On the other hand the royalistic historians telling us that the kings gave us order and teach us to pay taxes and be good citizens. And of course the historians of laws tell us that the Roman law is the one and only. Christianity came and put trousers on the Berserk. Generally they also tell that once the king was baptised all people were Christian. The truth is that such things are processes over hundreds of years. A new faith is not ready made and it is forced to borrow from all customs and rituals.
Once we search for synthesis and overlook we see that that is the normal pattern of cultural imperialism and we have to go behind that curtain. I am not a Christian since ten, but I cannot quit the Christian Heritage in our culture. On the other hand for me it is just the same which religion people now and in the past practised. People need some sort of order in their mind and religion / custom / ritual / faith give it to many people. For me as scientist it is enough to know that the Sun drives this earth … none can deny that.
In fact I think it would be hard to see differences in religion before they build the standardised churches. Even then people maybe asked themselves "Is it a shaman singing the divine service". The early Roman Mass consisted of its liturgy and Gospel and all in Latin. There was no great difference in the outlook compared to different kinds of cultural customs. This because it takes long times to create new customs and newness is always build on what is in mind. We have to define what we mean with the word "religion" since the concept of today cannot be applied on those days.
Another thing is that the theoretical discussion has always been a matter for a narrow priesthood. That has been depending on how big is the population and has there been possibilities for financing a class of priest. That is the main reason causing that Bible, Liturgy and canonical rules of church were written in south. That leads of course to formalism, fundamentalism and the church rules from above.
Churchfather Origen d. 254 had altars for the Sun, Orpheus and Christ then he was fully covered. Christianity is a process and it took time before it was the real Catholic Church. It needed a stronger power to get it on feet and later the struggle between church and state began. The Catholic Church wanted to be the only power of course. Seen from outside was the idea not new.
The Romans "crucified" mankind for hundreds of years before it became official religion. The message in Bible was made for enslaving people systematically. Then we should remember that when we say religion we mean the priesthood and ritual as well as the churches carrying the religion. We cannot use that concept directly for other kind of ritualised systems.
In 313 AD Constantin the Great maybe thought, "if I cannot beat them I have to join them". They tell his mother Helena was the driving force. Then he was between two fires because his power rested on his army that generally was celebrating Mithraism in their camps.
For Constantine it was a also a matter of tradition since like his forerunners he was "stand-in" for Deus Sol Invictus" =The unbeatable Sun god. Many early emperors wore the spike crown = sun crown. Christians naturally see it as pagan cult, but in fact worshipping the sun is more earthy and healthy and the fictive reality of Christianity. We should let the Romans and other have their freedom of religion without many disputes.
Soon we see the labarum in his standard and as usual administration began to create rules for everything. The symbol is simply the Greek letters PX = CHI RO.The Christian explanation is that this was made out of pure Christian faith. However when they analyse the emblem they get that Constantine was clever wen constructing the emblem with P and X called Chi Ro by the Greek Christians meaning that they believed the army was "Militie Christ"… see also Mithras
The emperor was more in the hands of his army. In fact the Roman Army for long elected the emperor. In the army the Mithraism was the main religion and they saw P as the sword of Mithras and the X was the sun-year or symbol of sun as Mithras was the sunlight. On their big shields they carried the PX and in the cross point of the letters they painted the Sun. The soldiers and many people could not read and they saw only the symbolism in the letters and associated it to what they knew or was the tradition.
However for the time being he gave both parts what they wanted and the tolerant rule lasted to the time of Theodosius I 378-395 AD. He invented heresy and the religious battle that has been going on since then. Christianity seems to have the most proselytes at least in West but are still minority on the globe. Nature does not care much for intellectual reasoning and making an enigma out of natural things. On our globe the Sun drive the biosphere … that is it. I have to say that for personal reasons.
In the beginning the emperor was Pontifex Maximus like in the Sun rituals. That means the highest priest and he ordered how many things should be. It was not entirely new things but they needed instructions that give the ritual its forms. He ordered for instance that an altar should stand on an elevation. In Scandinavia that maybe means a mound or terrace. The tabula or mensa was a rectangular flat stone and it could have one leg in the Greek style or normally four legs in Roman style. In some case they had 12 legs and later they build in reliquary. Yet for long as we see on the Roman coins the old deities were living strong.
For us on Dal it is very interesting since we in two or four places have the memory of the stones to such an altar. We have also terraces that can have been made for a holly place. In other hand also thing places were on a terrace. For the Celts there were no big difference between thing and ritual place. They tell that our Celtic ancestors used to have their holly places in the open air. That is a too rough generalisation. There are finds showing that in some places they have at least for some time build a shrine from Stone Age onward. It is surely the kind of act and matter that make the shrines alike independent of time. Then what should we call it when thy were in a holy grove?
Most of forth century the church was dominated by Arianism. The academic question was that the Arians told that Father and Son are distinct Persons while the other part defined the Godhead united Trinity including Father Son and Holy Spirit. The Arians practised the older idea from east like Theophilus of Antioch in 180 AD defined "the Trinity of God Father, His Word and His wisdom … the concept Word has much older roots than that since we find this beginning point in Sumerian philosophy. Christianity has in general been silent about its deep roots in Sumer and Egypt.
The big issue was about Trinity and the wing defining Father Son and Holy Spirit as Godhead won in 5th century. Most interesting for Scandinavia is that they tell the Heruli were Arians in 4th century and then I search for signs in their symbolism of course. Then it is the question were there Arians among Erils in Scandinavia? … see also theLittle Jored medal from, 4th century
When we hear the English term Godhead we naturally associate to Ansur = "tribe head" but also to the tri-head we see in some stony monuments. That is surely older than Christianity and we see that even in Indian symbolism earlier. Still the thinking in triads was old in Europe when Theodosius made his own Catholic version.
This worn cruciform fibula of bronze is from Aagedal West Agder Norway
It is always difficult to analyse symbolism. Easily we reach several possibilities and maybe see what we will see. The shape make us think about the Christian Cross. But was it in use at that time? When we look at more ornamented crosses the three knobs ends in heads so it should be seen as Trinity. But is it the Celtic old trinity or the Christian?
We can also ask if this matches Arianism? In fact it does if we see the heads as split Persons. The cruciform fibula is found in nearly every grave besides the gild luxurious brooches and silver or plated buckles. It looks like a tribe symbol and it is spread in the same area as the golden medal and bracts including the Angli and Jutes in England.
The Jutes' horn from Gallehus seems to be more aristocratic and we can associate it to the Erils directly. On that is a figure with three heads and a buck. We have still the Christmas Buck and none knows really from where it came. Folklorists usually seek easy answers and say things came from abroad. The picture could also be understood so that the Buck belongs to one head, the axe to another and the front head is the leader. From the Edda perspective we should call it "Tri-head Thurs" and with wrong filter seen as something wild and barbarian.
Yet when the Scandinavians heard rumours about the Catholic Trinity including three parts some thought it was the Old Celtic Trinity and other though maybe thought, "What and odd an ugly figure, Strange people in south". Others maybe thought that is the dear Old Moon Calendar and the old trinity.
It is obvious that it took many generations before symbolism and means were developed. In fact we have to wait until 12th century when they build the stone churches all over Europe. At least the bigger churches got the Bible and the liturgy book. But still much was in Latin and that much have sound like Roman shamanism? Many churches on Jutland and in West Europe have man strange animals as relief on the outer walls.
Later in 13th and 14th century they painted other strange thing inside the church. Once you paint something on a white wall you want to fill it with something … but need it be so strange in Church? In my first church they have a Black Devil and I compare it with my first picture of a god with long white beard like Vaenaemauinen the Old Hero in Kalevala and much like Grandpa.
Even the symbolism they inherited from the old culture. Orientius, Bishop of Augusta Ausciorum (Auch) was a Christian Latin poet of the fifth century. He wrote an elegiac poem (Commonitorium) in 1036 verses. He also wrote Alma chorus domini and there is a verse with Janua Virgo Virtus, Sapientia, Verbum I translate freely to Beginning, Maiden, Man, Insight, Presching. In Verse 7 Serpens, Aries, Leo, Vermis are the asterisms Dragon, Aries, Leo and Hydra/Water-snake. … I only think how it sounded in Scandinavian ears. But if they told that they were the old asterisms with Latin names it became familiar at once.
Songs like these were surely more like memory rules for what they should do in the mission. They were written for other priests and mission, since few could read Latin. It was like a secret language for the true rulers of bureaucracy = the priesthood. Later in 7th century the Benedictines became helpers in liturgy as singers in the church or whatever the church needed. Just like politicians that normally have three fingers in the sky and tell what they have sat on each finger.
The Celtic monks made later illuminated books and normally they picture the evangelist with Homo; the Man for Matteus; Leo for Marcus; Urculus, the Calf for Lucas and Aquila, the Eagle for John and we see a lot of snakes in the ornaments too. I think that there has maybe interaction between these and the Nordic artist making animal ornaments. The Church inspired by the Roman Circus told frankly that the Christian Lion eats people if they do not believe in Christ and the Scandinavians did not know what a lion is ... That is much like when Grandma told me to do my night prayer otherwise God would kill me with a big stone … that got a little man to think seriously about religion. Could my Ma's kind Old Man God do such things?
This is one of two found at Falkum Telemark Norway
The people did not understand Latin and if they could they would surely have questioned the message of Christianity. They surely understood the old Trinity but not the new with Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one person and no Virgin or female Person ready for pregnancy. The academic theological discussion in Rome and Constantinople was above the minds of the farming people in Europe. In fact the Bible and liturgy was long forbidden for ordinary people. People surely did as they wished as long as there were no swords over their head.
This does not mean that Christianity did not reach Scandinavia early, but they practised it in their own way. It is impossible to sort out what is Christian and what is Arian or what is the religion before that. Only few of the differences we see. We live in 21 millennium and the global society practises Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech and Writing and so on. I would never say that my ancestors were pagan or heathen. It is time to let also my ancestors have the Freedom of Religion.
For the Heruli living with the Romans it was essential to follow them even in religion. Some of them belonged to the Palace Guard and were near the Emperor. They were acquainted with the Goths coming from the area of Poland and the Goth Wulfila translated the Bibel into Gothic before 381 AD.
The Swedes found the Silver Bible of Ulfila's translation when they were "tourists" in Austria during the 30-years'war and brought it to Stockholm. They think the Bible is made in Ravenna around year 500 AD. There are some Byzantium style pillars on the front but the style was used in Ravenna that seems to be most Byzantium influenced city in Italy.
They suggest that Theoderic the Great should have been behind. However I doubt it since he was brought up in Constantinople and his contract was to take Rome home to Christianity so to speak. Instead I suggest Duke Fara of Bavaria d. 535 AD since he was a Herulian and surely Arian and lived in Austria of course. Not to forget that Odoacar ruled from Ravenna.
The early Heruli Legion was probably in Raetia after they were in England 367 - 369 AD following the commander Theodosius the Elder and later surely at duty on Balkan. The Palace Guard followed the emperor and Valentinian was born in Pannonia / Hungary. So it is possible that the Herulians made a factory there and traded with the Romans at such a strategic place.
Arianism was spread and so were Goths and Herulians. It was only natural that they became Arian since Arianism came from east. Later Heruli seem to have been in Antioch from where we have golden solidus. Twice the cavalry was at war against Persia at the eastern border. There would have been several occasions to be influenced by the Levant.
The struggle between Catholic and Arian church began early and the Council of Nicaea 325 AD was meant to settle the right order. At that meeting were 318 Churchfathers but the world does not act, as the gods will. For instance they decided about celibate, but that became practise in Sweden as late as in the middle of 13th century. Church wanted early the right to taxation, but that took hundreds of years.
Soon the concept "heresy" was created. That is natural as soon as some power gets monopoly it wants to make a difference between "to be in or out … between them and we". After the Catholicism won around 400 AD the hunt after heresy began and reached its height with the Cathars and Inquisition in 12th century. The word "cathar = pure" tells that they just saw another solution for their way of life. We should not judge either part, but according to our laws prevent us from those that cannot let others be in peace with their religion.
I have discussed this syndrome and I find that few know the truth about the early fight against heresy. Catholic Encyclopaedia has only invectives for the Arianism and does not like to tell about this that happened after Theodosius proclaimed that all other religion are "heresy". So here a list from the other side:
388 Theodosius sent his agents through Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, with orders to destroy pagan temples and break up their membership associations.
390 Theodosius closed the Oracle of Delphi. This ancient Greek shrine, sacred to Apollo, had been operating continuously for 1500 years. It has not been reopened.
390 Theodosius ordered the slaughter of about 7000 people at Thessalonici, to punish the city for an uprising.
391 Theodosius refused to restore the statue of Victory in the Roman Senate. He issued laws making pagan sacrifices, omens, and witchcraft punishable offences.
391 Destruction of the Library of Alexandria
392 Theodosius directed that the entrances of every pagan temple throughout the empire be closed to the public.
393 Theodosius stopped the Olympic Games, which had been held every four years since 776 BC. They were not held again for 1500 years (until 1896). But he did not stop the gladiatorial games, which were supposed to harden the citizens to the sight of human bloodshed so they could endure war.
Once we use words and concepts meaning valuation or separation we are in a dangerous area. Here I mention first the global and common laws of equality and all the freedoms all states within United Nations are obliged to follow. Still many Mights are like "states in the state" ignoring common laws.
Another thing is that for instance within the Christian message of love you cannot hunt or exclude other people in any way. Neither it is allowed to crucify man or to be a cannibal. However Theodosius meant that the message should be unclear so that people would not understand and get the clue … Sophisticated Westerners do not eat, but "push out" people in many ways. In our days the Swedish Government starve people to dead and naturally they have some law behind them???
Now back to the cruciform fibula that occurs in many sizes and variants. Besides the silver-plated or gilded buckles in the noble graves it looks simple as for everyday use. Many of them are very worn and that speaks for that too. Still it seems also have been a tribe symbol. Since we see three heads in the same triangle composition at the expensive buckles associating them with the cruciform is easy.
This fibula is of silver with almandines and it is from a grave in Hauge Rogaland Norway. Two of the wings are broken, but we see the remaining head
What is in your heart you put on your sleeves. Three faces stick in the eyes on the buckles and we think of the old Celtic Trinity. However it could also mean astro-symbolism or the Trinity of Christianity that was among the first to give names to churches in Denmark.
Still when we look closer at the ornaments on several buckles we se that there is a great variety and on some buckles there are some smaller faces. Our definition must be wider and include the tribe symbol Ansur perhaps individual for places. In some cases one of them is bigger and shows maybe the leader. Some of the faces are odd an ugly and we think about abstract things.
We see also that the tradition of Nordic animal ornament begins during this period. Some of the figures live for long and is seen in some churches build in 12th century. Some compositions have roots as we see it in Anatolian symbolism two or three thousand years earlier. We cannot say if they were saved in Scandinavia or if they came with new influences from the Black Seas during this Golden Age. Byzantium influenced European church architecture very much.
Most common are the snakes and we can clearly see three different heads in the symbolism. I think one of them is the Berserk and the other the Wolf-guise created at the time when the Roman Wolf was a real threat for the Scandinavians. The third is the Water- snake or fertility. However some snake-triad symbolism is also connected to their practical astronomy of the year. Their World builds on unity of all aspects while ours' is fragmented.
The Maglemose fibula in silver was found together with four medals with motifs for a Knight on Horse in the cavalry. This picture shows only the main wing.
On this detail one head is more visible than the other two as sign of a leader in the triad. We know Celtic triads in which the leader wears the neckring.
The tradition in Edda literature is that we should speak shortly about rough things and then only the inner circle understands. That was surely the meaning too. They used also known examples or fragments out of their history that all should know. Then they could put together a story out of this old memory by using fragments.
Maybe they knew that history repeat itself, however never in the exact same way.
Detail from Galsted Haderslev Jutland in which the upper part shows a very old and common motif
The youngest example I know of is on Haerja church West Gautland and the oldest is from the Hittites. At the time of the Erils we see it and later it is found in the Sutton Hoo grave and on Auland on some plates.
It may be a shortening of the "Snake Pit" and it was expected that the Hero should be though even in that pit. It could symbolise the grave as well as the life fight, while the peasants surely were more interested in the unknown life in Snake Pit of Underworld.
More than 160 of the medals are called D-bracts and the motif is like a Snake Pit. Maybe they were used as offer for good harvest. They could also be the Charon coin for good journey in afterlife as a bribe to the Ferryman. In some case the medal was put under the tongue of the dead.
The Nordic animal ornaments are best known from Norse churches but we see it almost everywhere from the Golden Age of Erils. They got influence from many places as for instance Olbia, the melt pot at the Black Sea and via that from Scythians and even Persia.
The Celtic monks and their illuminated gospel books without question influenced the late ornaments from 5th century onward. Naturally there is also the Nordic "tongue" in all this. We see from the golden bracts that they soon created their own style and symbolism.
It is custom that we should apply some pseudo valuation to this Nordic art and call it barbarian and wild. From my Scandinavian point of view lions are of course though animals and it does not look friendly when they eat Libyans at the Roman circus. The Romans shoved in Jupiter-colons Roman Europe the Roman Rider with the horse standing on a fallen enemy and it was often seen on the coins too. Christianity was often direct and told that the Christian Lion eat those who do not join the Roman Church.
Sumer and Egypt had their odd creatures and god shapes in symbolism We imported the Grip from Greece I think and that is an odd creature. There are many other odd creatures in the antique pantheon. So for me it depends on which side you stand. I cannot be in two places at one time and I cannot have my head in Rome and my body in Scandinavia, so I have to choose.
My answer to the question is "Yes, there were Christians in Scandinavia at the same time as it developed in the Roman Empire." According to Roman sources they become legionaries before 270 AD. Constantine the Great introduced Christianity as religion of state in 313 and surely the noble Heruli followed their patron. We have only to look at the motifs of the golden bract and medals copying the Roman style in the beginning. However they became Arians and were protected by the Emperors faith in 4th century AD.
After that Arianism was hate object for the "right common church" and it was called "heresy". Now in 2000 AD with freedom of religion I think we should allow even our ancestors to be Christian but with a slightly different faith. The main difference was about Trinity. For citizens the united Godhead Father Son and Holy Ghost were no big issue. For rural people it was natural to see the three as different Persons. The secret or cause of Roman hate was that they wanted Rome to control the Church in the same way as the earlier "sun kings".
We know also that the Heruli in the Roman Empire or in South were subordinated their leader in Scandinavia. The Nordic Erils seem to have been a league of traders and the nobility of most parts of Scandinavia and maybe even Northern Germany. They trained even legionaries and sent to Rome and set up a legion like other Roman foedorati.
They invented the runes and were the culture carrying upper class. The spread of about 1000 golden medallions and bracts to nearly 400 places gives us the map. The same spread has the cruciform fibula that also is spread in the England in the area of Jutes and Angli.
Then I also ask, "Was Christianity spread to ordinary people?" The answer is maybe. Here on Dal we have the memory of two altars in Christian style on Iron Age mounds. They are a stone slab and four legs. Constantine the Great ordered this and the altar should stand on an elevation. I think we can count terraces and mounds as elevations and even in later churches the nobility and priest were elevated. We have a mentioning of one rectangular slab upon a mound. Furthermore we have the memory of a Monk Altarstone in the middle of a ritual place.… continue