The Germanic peoples underwent gradual Christianization in the course of late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. By AD 700, England and Francia were officially Christian, and by 1100 Germanic paganism had also ceased to have political influence in Scandinavia.
Germanic peoples began entering the Roman Empire in large numbers at the same time that Christianity was spreading there.The connection of Christianity to the Roman Empire was both a factor in encouraging conversion as well as, at times, a motive for persecuting Christians. Until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes who had migrated there (with the exceptions of the Saxons, Franks, and Lombards, see below) had converted to Christianity. Many of them, notably the Goths and Vandals, adopted Arianism instead of the Trinitarian (a.k.a. Nicene or orthodox ) beliefs that were dogmatically defined by the church in the Nicene Creed. The gradual rise of Germanic Christianity was, at times, voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. From the 6th century, Germanic tribes were converted (or re-converted from Arianism) by missionaries of the Catholic Church.
Many Goths converted to Christianity as individuals outside the Roman Empire. Most members of other tribes converted to Christianity when their respective tribes settled within the Empire, and most Franks and Anglo-Saxons converted a few generations later. During the centuries following the fall of Rome, as the East–West Schism between the dioceses loyal to the Pope of Rome in the West and those loyal to the other Patriarchs in the East grew, most of the Germanic peoples (excepting the Crimean Goths and a few other eastern groups) would gradually become strongly allied with the Catholic Church in the West, particularly as a result of the reign of Charlemagne.
Most of the East Germanic peoples, such as the Goths, Gepids, and Vandals, along with the Langobards and the Suevi in Spain converted to Arian Christianity,a form of Christianity that rejected the divinity of Christ. The first Germanic people to convert to Arianism were the Visigoths, at the latest in 376 when they entered the Roman Empire. This followed a longer period of missionary work by both Orthodox Christians and Arians, such as the Arian Wulfila, who was made missionary bishop of the Goths in 341 and translated the Bible into Gothic. Initially, Gothic Christians had also faced some persecution under the Gothic King Athanaric, from 363 to 372. The Vandals appear to have converted following their entry into the Empire in 405; for other east Germanic peoples it is possible that Visigothic missionaries played a role in their conversion, although this is unclear. Each Germanic people in the Arian faith had their own ecclesiastical organization that was controlled by the king, while the liturgy was performed in the Germanic vernacular and a vernacular bible (probably Wulfila's) was used. The Arian Germanic peoples all eventually converted to Nicene Christianity, which had become the dominant form of Christianity within the Roman Empire; the last to convert were the Visigoths in Spain under their king Reccared in 587.
There is little evidence for any Roman missionary activity in Germania prior to the conversion of the Franks.The areas of the Roman Empire conquered by the Franks, Alemanni, and Baiuvarii were mostly Christian already, and while some bishoprics continued to operate, others were abandoned, showing a reduction in the influence of Christianity in these areas. In 496, the Frankish king Clovis I converted to Nicene Christianity. This began a period of missionizing within Frankish territory and the reestablishment of church provinces that had been abandoned within former Roman territory. The Anglo-Saxons gradually converted following a mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 595. In the 7th century, the Hiberno-Scottish mission resulted in the establishment of many monasteries in Frankish territory. At the same time, Frankish-supported missionary activity spread across the Rhine, led by figures of the Anglo-Saxon mission such as Saint Boniface. This affected peoples such as the Thuringians, Alemanni, Bavarians, Frisians, and Saxons.
The Saxons rejected Christianization, likely in part because doing so would have involved giving up their independence and becoming part of the Frankish realm.They were eventually forcibly converted by Charlemagne as a result of their conquest in the Saxon Wars in 776/777: Charlemagne thereby combined religious conversion with political loyalty to his empire. Continued resistance to conversion seems to have played a role in Saxon rebellions between 782 and 785, then again from 792 to 804, and during the Stellinga rebellion in (844).
The Anglo-Saxons gradually converted following the Gregorian mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 595,as well as the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the north-west. Pope Gregory I sent the first Archbishop of Canterbury, Augustine, to southern England in 597. The process of conversion usually proceeded from the top of the social hierarchy downwards, generally peacefully, with a local ruler choosing to convert, whereupon his subjects then also nominally became Christian. This process was often only partial, perhaps due to confusion as to the nature of the new religion, or for a desire to take the best of both traditions. A famous case of this was king Rædwald of East Anglia, who had a Christian altar erected within his pagan temple. His suspected burial place at Sutton Hoo shows definite influences of both Christian and pagan burial rites.
The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, the Jutish king Arwald of the Isle of Wight, was killed in battle in 686 fighting against the imposition of Christianity in his kingdom.
During the prolonged period of Viking incursions and settlement of Anglo-Saxon England pagan ideas and religious rites made something of a comeback, mainly in the Danelaw during the 9th century and particularly in the Kingdom of Northumbria, whose last king to rule it as an independent state was Eric Bloodaxe, a Viking, probably pagan and ruler until 954 AD.
Attempts to Christianize Scandinavia were first systematically undertaken by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious. In 831, he made the missionary Ansgar archbishop of the newly created Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen to undertake a mission to Scandinavia, which, however, mostly failed. Missionary activity resumed under the Ottonian dynasty. The Danish king Harald Bluetooth was baptized in the late 900s, but most Danes appear to have remained pagan and converted later under English influence during the reign of Canute the Great.Norway was converted mostly by the activity of its kings. Despite resistance such as the rule of the pagan Haakon Sigurdsson, Christianization was largely achieved by Olaf II (died 1030), who had converted in England. The settlement of Iceland included some Christians, but full conversion there did not occur until a decision of the Allthing in 1000. The last Germanic people to convert were the Swedes, although the Geats had converted earlier. The pagan Temple at Uppsala seems to have continued to exist into the early 1100s.
The baptism of Clovis highlights two important characteristics of the Christianization of Europe. Clovis I's wife Clotilde was a Chalcedonian Christian and had an important role in the conversion of her husband.Long before his own baptism, Clovis had allowed his sons to be baptised. However, the decisive reason for Clovis to adopt the Christian faith was the belief that he received spiritual battle aid from Christ. In the Battle of Tolbiac he prayed to Christ for victory. Clovis was victorious, and afterward he had himself instructed in the Christian faith by Saint Remigius.
That a pagan like Clovis could ask Christ for help shows the adaptability of Germanic polytheism. In the polytheistic Germanic tradition, "if Odin failed, one absolutely could try it with Christ for once."The Christian sense of religious exclusivism was unknown to the pagans. As a result, pagans could be pragmatic and almost utilitarian in their religious decisions. A good example for this are several Thor's Hammers with engraved crosses, worn as amulets, that archaeologists have found in Scandinavia. Another exemplary event happened during Ansgar's second stay in Birka, when a pagan priest demanded from the locals that they not participate in the cult of the foreign Christian God. If they did not have enough gods yet, they should elevate one of their deceased kings, Erik, to be a god.
The baptism of Clovis I also highlights the sacral role of the Germanic king. A Germanic king was not only a political ruler, but also held the highest religious office for his people.He was seen as of divine descent, was the leader of the religious cult and was responsible for the fertility of the land and military victory. Accordingly, the conversion of their leader had a strong impact on his people. If he considered it appropriate to adopt the Christian belief, this also was a good idea for them.
Conversion of the Germanic tribes in general took place "top to bottom" (Fletcher 1999:236), in the sense that missionaries aimed at converting the Germanic nobility first, who would then impose their new faith on the general population. This is attributable to the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: The king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people, so that the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing alternate modes of worship (Padberg 1998:29; though Fletcher 1999:238 would rather attribute the motivation for conversion to the workings of loyalty-for-reward ethics that underpinned the relationship between a king and his retinue). Consequently, Christianity had to be made palatable to these Migration Age warlords as a heroic religion of conquerors, a rather straightforward task, considering the military splendour of the Roman Empire.
Thus early Germanic Christianity was presented as an alternative to native Germanic paganism and elements were syncretized, for examples parallels between Woden and Christ. A fine illustration of these tendencies is the Anglo-Saxon poem Dream of the Rood , where Jesus is cast in the heroic model of a Germanic warrior, who faces his death unflinchingly and even eagerly. The Cross, speaking as if it were a member of Christ's band of retainers, accepts its fate as it watches its Creator die, and then explains that Christ's death was not a defeat but a victory. This is in direct correspondence to the Germanic pagan ideals of fealty to one's lord.
Christian missionaries to Germanic peoples:
to the Goths
to the Lombards
to the Alamanni
to the Anglo-Saxons (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity)
to the Frankish Empire (see Hiberno-Scottish, Anglo-Saxon mission)
to the Bavarians
Augustine of Canterbury was a monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597. He is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church.
The Germanic peoples were historical groups of people that once occupied Central Europe and Scandinavia during antiquity and into the early Middle Ages. Since the 19th century, they have traditionally been defined by the use of ancient and early medieval Germanic languages and are thus equated at least approximately with Germanic-speaking peoples, although different academic disciplines have their own definitions of what makes someone or something "Germanic". The Romans named the area in which Germanic peoples lived Germania, stretching East to West between the Vistula and Rhine rivers and north to south from Southern Scandinavia to the upper Danube. In discussions of the Roman period, the Germanic peoples are sometimes referred to as Germani or ancient Germans, although many scholars consider the second term problematic, since it suggests identity with present-day Germans. The very concept of "Germanic peoples" has become the subject of controversy among contemporary scholars. Some scholars call for its total abandonment as a modern construct since lumping "Germanic peoples" together implies a common group identity for which there is little evidence. Other scholars have defended the term's continued use and argue that a common Germanic language allows one to speak of "Germanic peoples", regardless of whether these ancient protagonists saw themselves as having a common identity.
Mellitus was the first bishop of London in the Saxon period, the third Archbishop of Canterbury, and a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons from their native paganism to Christianity. He arrived in 601 AD with a group of clergy sent to augment the mission, and was consecrated as Bishop of London in 604. Mellitus was the recipient of a famous letter from Pope Gregory I known as the Epistola ad Mellitum, preserved in a later work by the medieval chronicler Bede, which suggested the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons be undertaken gradually, integrating pagan rituals and customs. In 610, Mellitus returned to Italy to attend a council of bishops, and returned to England bearing papal letters to some of the missionaries.
Clovis was the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler, changing the form of leadership from a group of petty kings to rule by a single king and ensuring that the kingship was passed down to his heirs. He is considered to have been the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled the Frankish kingdom for the next two centuries.
Christianization was the conversion of societies to Christianity beginning in late antiquity in the Roman Empire and continuing through the Late Middle Ages in Europe. Outside of ancient Europe, the process was significantly reversed in the Levant by the Sunni Caliphate, with parallel process of Islamisation, beginning in pre-Islamic Arabia and the Near East.
Germanic paganism included various religious practices of the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. Religious practices represented an essential element of early Germanic culture. From both archaeological remains and literary sources, it is possible to trace a number of common or closely related beliefs among the Germanic peoples into the Middle Ages, when the last areas in Scandinavia were Christianized. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, the paganism practiced amid the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the Old English-speaking peoples. Germanic paganism is best documented in 10th- and 11th-century texts from Scandinavia and Iceland.
Migration Period art denotes the artwork of the Germanic peoples during the Migration period. It includes the Migration art of the Germanic tribes on the continent, as well the start of the Insular art or Hiberno-Saxon art of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic fusion in Britain and Ireland. It covers many different styles of art including the polychrome style and the animal style. After Christianization, Migration Period art developed into various schools of Early Medieval art in Western Europe which are normally classified by region, such as Anglo-Saxon art and Carolingian art, before the continent-wide styles of Romanesque art and finally Gothic art developed.
Anglo-Saxon paganism, sometimes termed Anglo-Saxon heathenism, Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian religion, or Anglo-Saxon traditional religion, refers to the religious beliefs and practices followed by the Anglo-Saxons between the 5th and 8th centuries AD, during the initial period of Early Medieval England. A variant of Germanic paganism found across much of north-western Europe, it encompassed a heterogeneous variety of beliefs and cultic practices, with much regional variation.
Rechiar or Rechiarius was the Suevic king of Gallaecia from 448 until his death. He was the first Chalcedonian Christian (Catholic) Germanic king in Europe and one of the most innovative and belligerent of the Suevi monarchs. Despite his orthodox Christianity, Hydatius, the contemporary bishop and chronicler from Galicia who is the sole contemporary source for biographical details of Rechiar, established his reputation as that of a barbarian with little sense of Roman law, culture, or custom.
Gothic Christianity refers to the Christian religion of the Goths and sometimes the Gepids, Vandals, and Burgundians, who may have used the translation of the Bible into the Gothic language and shared common doctrines and practices.
Paganism is commonly used to refer to various religions that existed during Antiquity and the Middle Ages, such as the Greco-Roman religions of the Roman Empire, including the Roman imperial cult, the various mystery religions, religions such as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, and more localized ethnic religions practiced both inside and outside the Empire. During the Middle Ages, the term was also adapted to refer to religions practiced outside the former Roman Empire, such as Germanic paganism, Egyptian paganism and Baltic paganism.
Christianity began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea, from where it spread throughout and beyond the Roman Empire.
The Gregorian mission or Augustinian mission was a Christian mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 596 to convert Britain's Anglo-Saxons. The mission was headed by Augustine of Canterbury. By the time of the death of the last missionary in 653, the mission had established Christianity in southern Britain. Along with the Irish and Frankish missions it converted other parts of Britain as well and influenced the Hiberno-Scottish missions to Continental Europe.
In the 5th century in Christianity, there were many developments which led to further fracturing of the State church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius II called two synods in Ephesus, one in 431 and one in 449, that addressed the teachings of Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius and similar teachings. Nestorius had taught that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons, and hence Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. The Council rejected Nestorius' view causing many churches, centered on the School of Edessa, to a Nestorian break with the imperial church. Persecuted within the Roman Empire, many Nestorians fled to Persia and joined the Sassanid Church thereby making it a center of Nestorianism. By the end of the 5th century, the global Christian population was estimated at 10-11 million. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon was held to clarify the issue further. The council ultimately stated that Christ's divine and human nature were separate but both part of a single entity, a viewpoint rejected by many churches who called themselves miaphysites. The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches, that is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy. In spite of these schisms, however, the imperial church still came to represent the majority of Christians within the Roman Empire.
In 6th-century Christianity, Roman Emperor Justinian launched a military campaign in Constantinople to reclaim the western provinces from the Germans, starting with North Africa and proceeding to Italy. Though he was temporarily successful in recapturing much of the western Mediterranean he destroyed the urban centers and permanently ruined the economies in much of the West. Rome and other cities were abandoned. In the coming centuries the Western Church, as virtually the only surviving Roman institution in the West, became the only remaining link to Greek culture and civilization.
Christianity in the 8th century was much affected by the rise of Islam in the Middle East. By the late 8th century, the Muslim empire had conquered all of Persia and parts of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) territory including Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Suddenly parts of the Christian world were under Muslim rule. Over the coming centuries the Muslim nations became some of the most powerful in the Mediterranean basin.
The Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England was a process spanning the 7th century. It was essentially the result of the Gregorian mission of 597, which was joined by the efforts of the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the 630s. From the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxon mission was, in turn, instrumental in the conversion of the population of the Frankish Empire.
Christianity in late antiquity traces Christianity during the Christian Roman Empire – the period from the rise of Christianity under Emperor Constantine, until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The end-date of this period varies because the transition to the sub-Roman period occurred gradually and at different times in different areas. One may generally date late ancient Christianity as lasting to the late 6th century and the re-conquests under Justinian of the Byzantine Empire, though a more traditional end-date is 476, the year in which Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor.
Gothic paganism was the original religion of the Goths before their conversion to Christianity.
Christianization of the Franks was the process of converting the pagan Franks to Catholicism during the late 5th century and early 6th century. It was started by Clovis I, regulus of Tournai, with the insistence of his wife, Clotilde and Saint Remigius, the bishop of Reims.