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Viking History Unit

alec vanderboom

An amazing thing happen this year, the entire Benjamin family fell in love with Cressida Cowell's "How to Train Your Dragon" series. We're currently doing bedtime story time with Book Five. This imaginary series based on the heroic misadventures of a young Viking named Hiccup, his dragon Toothless and his best friend Fishlegs are wonderful. My kids are all still non-readers, but these books have made reading a family adventure.

Our love of all things Viking have also made for interesting Catholic History lessons. Here are some highlights.

The Viking Era starts with a raid on the Irish Abbey of Lindisfarne in 787. The Vikings had a thing for attacking monasteries and killing unarmed monks. (If the grown-ups want a good laugh, check out the theories proposed for these "harmless" historical facts in the Adult Viking History Section. My favorite theory was that the Viking attacked Christian monks preemptively because they were horribly afraid of the Baptismal Font.)

One notorious Viking raid leads to interesting ethical questions. In around 900 AD, the Viking leader Hestein attacked the Italian town of Sarzang, thinking it to be Rome itself. Seeing that he was outnumbered, the Viking leader hatched a terrible plan. Hestein asked the local Bishop to baptize him, pretending to have a change of heart. That night, there was wailing from the Viking ship. The Vikings told the Bishop their leader had died in the night and asked for the Bishop to conduct a Christian Funeral Mass. Feeling pity for his former enemy, the Bishop consented. In the middle of the Funeral Mass, Hestein suddenly rose out of his coffin and killed the Bishop with his sword. All the Viking mourners throw off their cloaks, reveling their swords and started murdering everyone in site. The entire "baptism/funeral" request had been a ploy by Hestein to enter a heavily fortified town. This event gave a great springboard for my kids to talk about "loving your enemies" even when they trick you. We all decided that the Bishop did the right thing in in offering Baptism and Funeral Rites to his enemy, even if it ended up destroying his entire monastery.

Thankfully, the Vikings all ended up converting to Christianity.* One of the most interesting acts of conversion in Catholic history happened to Vikings. In 1000 AD, the entire settlement of Iceland voted democratically to accept Christianity. One leader proposed "Some of us believe in the old Gods. Some of us believe in Christ. It is not good for our people to be divided, therefore let us vote on whether we should all become Christians." There are many interesting stories of how Kings or Emperors were converted and then brought Christianity to their respective countries. I don't think there is another country which became Christian through a democratic vote.

*(We excuse our beloved Viking hero Hiccup for not being a Christian since we assume that he lived before St. Olaf and the mass conversion of Danish Vikings.)

For a kid-friendly lesson on how to dig up Viking Era Artifacts check out this great Dig It Up game from the BBC.