February 865 A.D. Anskar—Benedictine
Bishop & Missionary to Denmark & Sweden
Are bells magical? When Bishop Anskar introduced
them in Denmark, the pagans resisted their use, probably thinking that their
gods would be angered or frightened by their
Anskar wouldn't give up.
Born near Amiens, France in 801,
he became a Benedictine monk. Following visions which seemed to call him to
missionary work, he dedicated himself to living a holy life. Denmark's King
Harold had been exiled by his people. During his exile, he converted to Christianity and was
baptized. Now he was going home and asked Anskar to come with him. In that way,
Anskar began his missionary work in Scandinavia.
His task was not easy and he saw
many setbacks in his lifetime. Bishop Ebbo of Rheims had already tried to
convert the north of Europe and failed. Part of the problem was that the
Vikings prided themselves on oath-breaking and revenge. Imagine trying to
convince them that truth and forgiveness were virtues! Anskar's approach was to
establish a school at Schleswig with the help of another monk, Autbert. This
King Harold, however, did not
know how to manage people. He pushed them so hard to become Christians that they
threw him out of the country again. Anskar and Autbert had to leave, too.
But King Bjorn of Sweden had
heard of the success of Anskar's school. He invited the monk to Sweden. In the
company of a French embassy, Anskar headed north. The embassy was attacked and
robbed. Even Anskar's religious books were taken, but although his companions
wanted to turn back, he would not. He pressed on to Sweden, where he converted
Herigar, the chief royal counselor, who then built Sweden's first church in
A year and a half later, Anskar
left Sweden. The pope had appointed him bishop (and later Archbishop) of
Hamburg. Now he was responsible to oversee most of Northern Europe, including
Iceland and Greenland. An abbey in Flanders was given him. He opened a school
In 845, King Eric of Jutland
(northern Denmark) attacked Hamburg with 600 ships, destroying the city. Anskar
became a fugitive. Rather than moan over all that he had lost--including his
library--he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be
the name of the Lord!"
Charles the Bald, King of the
Franks, took away Anskar's abbey school. But the gallant evangelist would not
give up. He went to Jutland, won Eric's friendship, convinced the king to treat
slaves more kindly and got permission to start a church. That's when he
introduced the bells.
Anskar himself never ate, unless
some poor person could be brought in to share the meal with him. While he
worked, he could be heard chanting psalms. He built hospitals, gave alms freely
and ransomed captives. Many sick sought him out, convinced that he could heal
them. He took no credit for any success, laying it to the account of others.
The archbishop died on this day, February 3, 865. He spent the night before in
prayer for his mission. On the morning of his death, "he lifted up his
hand and prayed that God in His goodness would forgive whoever had done him any
wrong. Then he began to say over and over again the verses: 'According to Thy
mercy think thou upon me, according to Thy goodness, O Lord,' [Ps 25: 6] and
'God be merciful to me a sinner,' (Luke 18:18) and 'Into Thy hands, O Lord, I
commend my spirit.'" (Luke 23:46 ) When he could not speak for lack of
breath, he ordered one of the brethren to continue saying the same words for
him. "And so, with his eyes fixed on heaven, he breathed forth his spirit
which had been commended to the grace of the Lord."
Unfortunately, his death brought
the worst setback of all. The faith he had labored so hard to spread had
evidently not been firmly grounded; Christianity virtually disappeared from
Scandinavia. Those who came after him had to rebuild almost from scratch.
"Anskar; Bishop and Missionary to Denmark and
Campbell, T. J. "St. Anschar." The Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1907).
Rimbert. "Life of Anskar." Medieval
Various other internet and encyclopedia articles.
Last updated June,
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