When the Danes Became Christian
In Denmark, Christianity has been the cultural foundation for centuries, from Viking times until today.
The Viking Era was a glorious time in Denmark. Between 700 and 900, year after year, floats of Viking ships with crews eager for battle set sails for foreign shores. They are mostly known for their raids in France and England. But the Vikings were not only pirates. They were also merchants selling goods from home in foreign places and bringing back beautiful and costly gold and silver jewellery.
During this time a monk was sent from Germany to Denmark. His name was Ansgar. He made it his duty to spread the Christian faith among pagans. He bought several slaves to set them free and then taught them in the Christian faith. He also built churches in both Hedeby and Ribe, the commercial centres in those days.
But the real breakthrough for Christianity came when the Danish king Harald Bluetooth was baptized and with this act influenced the entire nation.
A man named Widukind from Corvey has in his book "The History of the Saxons" (from 970) described this important event in more detail:
From the days of old the Danes have been Christian but many still sacrificed to the pagan gods. Once at a gathering, where the king was present, an argument broke out. The Danes did not deny that Christ was a god. But they claimed that there were other gods which were mightier than him and showed mortals bigger signs and wonders.
A priest named Poppo, who is now bishop and a regular monk, came forth and said that there was only one true God with His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and that all other gods were only trolls and not gods.
King Harald, who was quick to listen but slow to speak, asked Poppo if he was willing to confirm this faith with his life, to which he immediately said yes.
The king then ordered that the priest be taken into custody until the following day. The next morning he had a big piece of iron heated in the fire and ordered the priest, in the name of the Christian faith, to carry the burning piece of iron. Without hesitation, he grabbed it and carried it for as long as the king wanted. When he showed the people that his hands were untouched, he had thus proved the Christian faith for all.
The king was converted and ordered that Christ alone should be worshipped as God.
In later accounts, e.g. in Adam of Bremen and Saxon, it is an iron glove that is heated and carried by Poppo. For people in those days, carrying a burning piece of iron was as definite a proof for something as a scientific proof is today.
Fortunately, Denmark was not forced by outside influence to become Christian as was the case for other countries. Christianity was received in Denmark without much resistance, undoubtedly due to Poppo’s witness which was accepted both by the people and King Harald.
As a visible sign of his conversion and its consequences for Denmark, Harald had a big stone made where Christ with outstretched arms shows his superiority. On the stone, which stands in Jelling, the following inscription can be read:
King Harald had this memorial made for his father Grom and his mother Thyre. The same Harald who conquered all of Norway and Denmark and made the Danes Christian.
The inscription is also referred to as "Denmark’s Baptismal Certificate."