The Evangelization of the Arctic in the Middle Ages: Gardar, the “Diocese of Ice”
By Louis Rey
Arctic: Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America, Vol.37:4 (1984)
Abstract: The author outlines the history of the evangelization of Greenland from the days of Saint Brendan until the loss of communication with the area in the 1400’s apparently through worsening climate. The author includes letters from two popes of Rome expressing anxiety for the fate of the Christian Greenlanders.
Introduction: Strange land under the Great Bear, the Arctic North is by turns shrouded in the darkness of a sunless winter and sparkling in the brightness of unending day. At the summer: solstice, the thousand and one crystalline facets of the mountains catch the light, and in the deep blue vistas of a vast landscape, the tundra flowers unfold their tender colours. It is a land of the starkest contrasts, of beguiling charms and deadIy hazards. No wonder, then, that for over 2500 years it has continued to fascinate and ensnare men who, though born amidst the smiling prospects of the inhabited world and imbued with the concepts of humanist harmony, have nevertheless resolved to force their way through the “doors of ice” and head forthe Pole.
And yet, for more than 10,000 years small sunburnt men with high cheekbones and narrow slanting eyes, clad in thick furs, have lived out their solitary lives in one of the harshest environments on earth. Behind their fleet-footed dogs – or their reindeer, they traverse – the vast snowy tracts in search of game. With piercing gaze, they scan the vast horizons of their desolate world for some imperceptible sign of the quarry on which their precarious survival depends.