by a Special N.C.W.C. Correspondent
HE United States Government's agreement with the Danish Minister at Washington, Henrik de Kauffmann, "on behalf of the King of Denmark," placing Greenland, a dependency of Denmark, under the protection of the United States " until it is agreed that the present dangers to the peace and security of the American continent have passed," recalls the early history of Greenland and the part played by the Church in colonising this
desolate northern island as early as the
Students point out that Irish navigators and missionaries probably visited Greenland in the eighth century, and Christianity was known among the first European settlers who went there frorn Iceland toward he close of the tenth century.
Both Iceland and Greenland officially accepted Christianity in about the year 1000 after Norway's missionary king. St. Olaf, had requested Leif Ericsson to aid in obtaining the conversion of the settlers in Greenland, and had sent a priest with hint on a voyage front Norway.
FIRST RESIDENT BISHOP
Greenland had its first resident Bishop in 1112, and the first Arctic expedition set out from Greenland under the leadership of Catholic priests. Communication with Europe at length•ceased, and Christian influence in. this remote olltpOsi waned many years before Columbus discovered America.
The history of Greenland goes back to the end of the tenth century, although it is probable that the island was visited much earlier, by Irish navigators and missionaries, who are known to have discovered Iceland and to have had settlements there before 795. The tradition of these early voyages to Greenland was probably preserved in the story, current in Iceland in the tenth century, that one Gunnbjorn, whose ship had been driven westward, had touched a new land, which the Icelanders called Gunnbtorn's-reer.
In about the year 986. Eric Thorwaldsson, usually known as Eric the Red, a Norwegian immigrant living in Iceland. set out with 25 ships to colonise Greenland. Rounding the southern coast of Greenland, called Cape Farewell, Eric and his followers established two settlements, one 40 or 50 miles north-west of Cape Farewell and the other about 200 miles farther north. These settlements, along the rocky coastline in the deep fjords that run back into the land, are indicated to-day in the two administrative districts into which Greenland is divided.
CHURCH IN MIDDLE AGES
Although these first settlers in Greenland were probably largely pagan, Christianity cannot have been unknown among them, and in the summer of 999 Leif, the son of Eric the Red, made a journey to Norway and passed the following winter at the court of St. Olaf, Norway's missionary king. King Olaf took a liking to the young" Greenlander and asked him to undertake the conversion of the Greenland colony. According to the early chronicles, the King found " a priest and other learned men " who were willing to undertake the long journey, and Leif set sail for the West.
" The population of Greenland in the Middle Ages," writes Dr. Laurence M. Larson, of the University of Illinois, in the Catholic Historical Review, " can scarcely have counted more than 3,000 inhabitants at any time. In an old description of the country, the West Settlement is credited with 90 homesteads and the East Settlement with 190. The churches were relatively numerous; twelve in the larger settlement and four in the smaller. The parishes were necessarily small, as the absence of roads and the severity of the weather in winter would not permit long journeys to church," According to Dr. Larson, there were two monastic establishments in ate colony, " a great monastery dwelt in by regular canons," and " a cloister of nuns or Saint Benedict's Order." The colony was organised as a diocese, with the cathedral at Cassias, a plate but lately identified.
" Gardar," writes Dr, Larson, " was located to the south side of a low, narrow isthmus in the Igaliko region.. near an inlet anciently known as Eirtarsfirth. The soil here is relatively fertile, and the large number of ruins would indicate that this region was the real centre of the East Settlement. The walls of the church at Carder have been traced, and slum that it was built Oa the plan of a cross. it Seems to have been the only cruciform church in Greenland. Its total length, measured on the inside. was about 74 feet. The nave was 26 feet wide and the choir somewhat narrower. The gran
sews, extending only four feet beyond the walls of the nave, were quite small. There was no projecting apse."
One of the greatest problems confronting the Church authorities in Greenland, according to Dr. Larson, was the obtaining of materials necessary for sacramental purposes, oil for the chrism and bread and wine for the Eucharist, as grain does not grow in Greenland and oil was then scarce. There was also a lack of cloth and iron. The church also suffered from a lack of priests and other church officials.
" For nearly 300 years," writes Dr. Larson, " Greenland was a republic. Every year toward the close of July the important men of the two settlements gathered in the all-moot at Gardar to discuss and determine colonial affairs. Except for a brief period early in the tenth century, when some shadowy form of dependence on the Norwegian Crown seems to have been recognised, Greenland was absolutely independent. But in the thirteenth century the political freedom of the colony was surrendered."
The decline of this early Catholic colony in Greenland followed its submission to Norway in 1261, partly due to the trade monopoly which the Norwegian King insisted upon and which discouraged additional merchants and settlers from undertaking to develop the colony further. Other causes of the decline were the troubled times in Scandinavia and Europe following the Black Death and the formation of icemasses off the shore of Greenland, which made communication with Europe difficult.
SUCCESSION OF BISHOPS
But for centuries a prosperous trade was maintained between the colonists in Greenland and Europe, successive Bishops were appointed to the See of Gardar, and in 1266, under the guidance of Catholic priests, the first Arctic expedition was undertaken from the settlements in Greenland, at which time the sources make the first mention of a native population, the Skraerings or Eskimos, who occupied the north-west and west coasts.
The settlers in Greenland received no reinforcements and either perished or, by inter-marriage, were assimilated by the pagan Eskimos. European manners and religion thus gave way and Greenland receded into the darkness. What seems to be the last neWs from the colony is contained in a letter of Pope Alexander VI, written in 1492, in which the Pope stales that no vessel has touched there (Green during the past eighty years," and " no memory of the Christian religion is found except a corporal, whirls is shown to the people once a year, and on which. it is said, the last priest who officiated there consecrated the body of Christ a hundred years ago."
Thus ended the Catholic history of Greenland. In the course of the search for a north-west passage the island was rediscovered by the English, and thereafter it was sighted by whalers, But it was not until 200 years later, in 1721. that the foundation of Danish Greenland was laid through the appointment by the King of Denmark of Hans Egede, a Lutheran. as a Missionary. Egede had conceived the idea of visiting his forlorn countrymen who had lapsed into paganism and of preaching the Gospel to them. After many hardships he reached Greenland, but soon discovered that no descendants of the ancient colonists remained, and that his whole duty would consist in converting the Eskimos.
To-day, like the adjacent islands, Greenland is subject to the jurisdiction of the Vicar-Apostolic of Copenhagen, but all missionary activity in the island has been suspended.