Ethelwold of Winchester died today. After the spiritual damage left by Danish invasions, caused by relentless raids on monasteries, Ethelwold dedicated his live to rebuilding the monastic network and promoting the Benedictine order.
We also look at the fascinating conversion of Denmark to Christianity and the legacy of Harald Bluetooth who after he was baptised united all the Kingdoms. Bluetooth technology whose aim is to unite all devices is named after him
For those living outside Scandinavia, the Viking Age effectively began in 793 with an attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne, a characteristically violent harbinger of what was in store for Britain and much of Europe from the Vikings for the next 300 years, until the final destruction of the heathen temple to the Norse gods at Uppsala around 1090. At the beginning of the Viking Age, all those living in Scandanavia were heathen and by then end of the Viking Age they were at least superficially Christian. Considering the richness of Viking culture and lore, this transformation is incredible, particularly as Norse culture was all about revenge whereas Christianity stands for the opposite, for forgiveness and love. When Harald Bluetooth as first King of Denmark was baptised around 965, it is unlikely that this was because he was convinced that the Christian religion was the only truthful way. His baptism was a tactical manoeuvre to hold the German emperor at bay. However, in the longer view the Church and Christianity suited him very well in his ambition to unite the tribes. The technology of literacy and scripture was brought by the monks and the Danish King realised how this could allow him to send letters, and messages to peripheral tribes and thus the center could more reliably govern the peripheries. The Bluetooth wireless specification was named after the king in 1997,and the Swedish company Ericson named it Bluetooth, hoping that this short-link radio technology would unite devices the way Harald Bluetooth united the tribes of Denmark into a single kingdom. The Bluetooth logo consists of the runes for his initials, H (ᚼ) and B (ᛒ.)
Robert Ferguson in his book the hammer and the cross explores the rise of Christianity, tracing the stages of firstly violent occupation of the Vikings and then their assimilation. In Britain, the West Saxons had been the only ones to preserve their kingdom from Viking Conquest and under Athelstan a new Christian Kingdom, uniting the Angles and the Saxons emerged. Monastic life had declined to a low ebb in England in the ninth century, partly because of the ravages caused by Viking attacks. Kings from Alfred the Great onwards took an interest in the Benedictine rule of life, but it was only in the middle of the tenth century that kings became ready to commit substantial funds to its support. Æthelwold became the leading propagandist for the monastic reform movement, which made a major contribution to the revival of learning and the arts. To his admirers, he was known as the "father of monks" and "benevolent bishop" and friend of Christ's poor. He was very ascetic and learned but didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he was said to be "terrible as a lion" to the rebellious, yet "gentler than a dove" to the meek.
Æthelwold died on 1 August 984 at Beddington in Surrey. He was buried in the crypt of the Old Minster at Winchester, but twelve years later a citizen of Wallingford, claimed to have been cured of blindness by visiting his tomb. This was taken as the necessary sign for his formal recognition as a saint, and his body was translated from the crypt to the choir. One of his students, Wulfstan of Winchester, wrote a biography which seems to have played a major role in promoting his cult, it is however interesting to note from a hagiographical point of view that the figure described inspired respect as a formidable authoritarian rather than devotion, and his cult never seems to have achieved great popularity. He had a reputation for ruthless insensitivity which is not shared by the other tenth-century monastic reformers