V. A GREENLAND BOAT AND CREW.
THE fiord on the banks of which stands the town, or colony, of Julianshaab is now known as the fiord of Igalliko, meaning the fiord of the “deserted homes ” ; the deserted homes being the desolate and long-abandoned ruins of the Norse buildings which are scattered along its picturesque banks. The ancient name was Ericsfiord.
How this came to be applied, and why it fell into disuse, and through what cause Igalliko came to be substituted for it, are matters of historical interest which we shall have occasion to inquire into by and by. At present, our interest lies with the fiord itself and not with its name and history.
It stretches away in a northeasterly direction from Julianshaab, and is from three to five miles wide. It is a grand inlet from the sea, and its length is not far from forty miles. Midway it branches to the right and left, and both branches lead to important places of the ancient Norse times. That to the right leads to Brattahlid, where Eric founded his first colony, and to Gardar, where the bishop built his cathedral. That to the left leads to Krakotok.
Krakotok is a native and not a Norse name. It means the place where there are white rocks. The rocks are of the same metamorphic character and general appearance as elsewhere in that part of Greenland, only that, by one of Nature’s freaks, they were made lighter of color than in the regions round about.
To the place of the white rocks we agreed to go, and the pastor of Julianshaab, my old friend the Rev. Mr. Anton, agreed to be our pilot, and he very kindly offered us transportation thither. We had boats of our own, and good ones, too ; but then, what so appropriate for a Greenland fiord as a Greenland boat ? So, at least, said Pastor Anton, and so we were very willing to confess. But what then was a Greenland boat ?
A Greenland boat is a curiosity in marine architecture. It is anywhere from twenty to forty feet long, from five to seven feet wide, and from two to three feet deep. The sides are almost perpendicular, the bottom is quite flat, and both ends are sharp like a whale-boat, or one of those very wonderful United States naval devices known as “ double-endears.” It has no rudder, but is steered after the most primitive of all fashions, precisely as the Phœnicians and Romans and Norsemen steered their ships ; that is, with a paddle or oar lashed to one side of the stern. The native name for this native boat is oomiak. It is a very different kind of boat from the light little skin canoe, made for carrying one man, and completely decked over, called the kayak.
Mr. Anton took us down to look at his oomiak, that we might decide whether we would trust ourselves to it or to our own boat. It was turned bottom upwards on a scaffolding, so that we could stand under it and look up through it at the sky, for it was semi-transparent. I gave it a thump with a stick, and it rattled like a drum.
“ What, go to sea in a thing like that?”
“Certainly,” said Pastor Anton,— “ certainly, why not ? ” And he called three or four people, who had it off the scaffolding in a twinkling, and down into the water, where it floated like a feather, looking as if whole tons and tons of solid pig-iron would neither take it down nor ballast it.
“ Oomiak ! oomiak ! ” I ran the name over in my mind. “ What does oomiak mean ? ”
“Woman’s boat,” said Pastor Anton.
“ Ah yes, I see, — made by women ” ; and cunningly made it was. It was thirty-six feet long and six feet wide, and there was not a peg or nail in it. There was first a frail-looking skeleton of the lightest kind of wood, — all the pieces firmly lashed together with thongs of raw seal-hide. Then over this skeleton there had been spread, and stretched to the utmost possible tension, a seal-skin cover, each skin of which was so firmly sewed to the other that not a drop of water could possibly find its way through the seams ; while, as for the skin itself, it was so well tanned, and saturated with oil, that it was as impervious to water as an iron plate. There were twelve thwarts tied across it, at a very convenient height for sitting, and there were six short oars with broad blades tied to the gunwale, and ready for use.
The pastor wanted to know how we liked the looks of it.
To confess the truth, it looked a little too balloonish for our fancy. “ Would he be good enough to shove the thing off, and give us a touch of its quality ? ”
“ Of course, by all means ” ; and the pastor called the crew together. And, — shades of Harvard and Oxford defend us, — what a crew ! And what a rig ! Very long boots of tanned seal-skin, reaching some distance above the knee, and of divers colors and of pretty shape, gave a trim and natty look to their pedal extremities. Then they wore silverseal-skin pantaloons, very short, beginning where the boots left off, and ending midway on the hips, and calico jackets (bright of hue and lined with soft fawn-skins), drawn on over the head and falling to meet the pantaloons.
The jacket was trimmed around the neck with black fur, beneath which peeped up a white covering to the throat; the hair was drawn out of the way and tied with red ribbon on the top of the head ; and altogether the costume was calculated to show off the respective figures of the crew to the greatest possible advantage.
And then such names for boatmen ! “Go along,” said the pastor,—“go along, Maria, and take the others with you.”
Maria was stroke-oar ; and the strokeoar called Catharina and Christina and Dorothea and Nicholina and Concordia ; and away they all went, chattering and giggling at an amazing rate ; and they scrambled into the boat, and skipped over the thwarts in a very gay and lively manner to their respective places, all brimful of fun and mischief, and making altogether quite a shocking exhibition for a boat’s-crew, whose duties we are in the habit of regarding as of an exceedingly sober description. But they quieted down a little when a more sedate individual (who proved to be the coxswain), dressed in short boots and long silver - seal - skin pantaloons and jacket, and with a cap on his head, came along and took the steering-oar, and gave the order to shove off; which order was executed in handsome style. Then they pulled away for the mouth of the harbor, each of the crew rising with the stroke of the oar ; and, bending to their work with a will, they made this singular-looking boat fairly hum again.
“ Lively-looking oarsmen,” somebody suggested.
“ Oarsmen ! ” exclaimed the pastor, laughing at somebody’s exceeding innocence. “ Oarsmen ! why, dear me, they are oars women ! ”
“ Oars what ? ”
“ Oarswomen, to be sure.”
“Oarswomen! man alive! and do they always pull the boat ? ”
“Always,” replied the pastor. “A man will never pull an oar in an oomiak. He would be disgraced. An oomiak is strictly a woman’s-boat.”
“ And do they pull the boat to-morrow if we go in the oomiak ? ”
“Just that same precious crew ?”
“ The same crew exactly.”
“ Including the bow-oar, you call Concordia ? ”
“ Including her, of course.”
“ Then the boat will do for me. I ship in that craft for one. Call the dear creatures back, I beg of you.”
“Then they will do?” said Pastor Anton, inquiringly, to all.
“ Yes, yes,” said everybody.
And do they did superbly, when the morning came, fresh and sparkling as their eyes.
VI. UP A GREENLAND FIORD.
AT an early hour of the morning the oomiak, propelled by the lively crew of yesterday, and bearing our cheery friend the pastor, came stealing through the bright sunshine over the still waters of the harbor ; the quiet air broken only by the merry voices of Maria, Christina, Catharina, Dorothea, Nicholina, and Concordia, who, in their native tongue, were singing a song to the music of the sparkling oars.
The arrival of the boat alongside the ship made a sensation. Such a boat, propelled in such a fashion, was a sight new to sailors’ eyes ; and it did not seem easy for our people to reconcile such uses and occupations for womankind with a sailor’s ideas of gallantry. Numerous were the jests passed upon these novel oarswomen; hardly, however, at their expense, for they understood not a word that was said.
“ And it’s pretty you are,” says Welch, the fireman, to the stroke-oar. “ It’s pretty you are, me stroke-oar darlint. And me bow-oar honey there, with the red top-knot, sure an’ she ’s the one I’d like to be shipmates with till the boat sinks.”
The bow-oar nodded, smiled graciously, and said, “ Ab.”
“ And is it talking you are, me honey ? ” says Welch.
Somebody hinted that ab meant " yes.”
“ Ah, thin, an’ it’s too willin’ ye are. me honey, intirely. But ye’s a wellrigged craft alow and aloft, for all that,” said the bantering fireman.
“ For’ed there, and attend to your work,” said a voice, very like the captain’s, which speedily put an end to the merriment.
We were soon ready with all our needful preparations, our " traps ” were quickly stowed in the oomiak, and we quickly followed, — the photographers with their baths, plates, and cameras ; the artist with his sketch-books and paint-boxes and whole sheaves of pencils ; the surveyor with his sextant, barometers, and tape-lines ; the hunters with their weapons, game-bags, and ammunition ; the steward with his cooking-fixtures and substantive meats and drinks, — and each and every one in the very best of spirits.
“All aboard!” and the oomiak was shoved off. The fair oarswomen dipped their paddles, rising with the act, and coming down with a good solid thud upon the thwart when the paddle took the water ; and the light boat shot away from the ship like an arrow from a bow, and then glided smoothly out upon the unrippled waters of the silverysurfaced fiord.
The day could not have been better chosen : the sky was quite cloudless, and the great mountains by which we were surrounded on every side climbed up into the pearly atmosphere, and their crests of ice and snow blended softly with the pure and lovely air. Sometimes we crept along in shadow beneath a towering cliff which seemed to frown upon us as intruders, and again we passed in front of a similar wall of rock, which smiled in the bright sunshine and seemed to rejoice to see its sides mirrored in the still waters, that to us were more like the charmed sea of some strange dream than a simple Greenland fiord-
A few days ago, and we had been scouring the hills of Newfoundland ; a few days before that we were sweltering in the summer heat of New York; and here now we were within the regions lighted by the midnight sun, rejoicing in the soft atmosphere of budding spring, surrounded by the most sublime scenery, and gliding between shores now wholly uninhabited, but rich in historical associations, dotted everywhere with the ruins of an ancient Christian people, who once made the welkin ring with their joyous songs as over these same waters they rowed from place to place in the pursuit of profitable industry or in the performance of acts of friendship or hospitality.
The spirit of the scene was contagious. A solemn yet quiet grandeur attached to every object which the eye beheld in the delightful atmosphere ; miles and miles of rich meadowland stretched along the borders of the fiord in places; and the fancy, now catching the lowing of cattle and the blearing of sheep, would sometimes detect the voices of men ; and again it seemed as if we heard,
the “song and oar ” of some gay inhabitants of the fiord, descendants of brave old Eric and his followers, who on the gentle plains beneath the icecrowned hills, within this rampart of the ice-girt isles, sought asylum from their enemies. And our native crew were not behind us in the feeling of the hour ; encouraged by their pastor, with rich voices and in a melody which showed a remarkable natural ear for music, our oarswomen, keeping time with the paddles’ stroke, broke out in the fine swelling notes of an old Norse hymn : —
And this, my cry, O heed,
O give me hope, I trust thy word ;
O help me in my need.”
And as the refrain came echoing back to us over the waters, from hill and dale, it struck the fancy more and more that human voices came to us from the depths of those solitudes.
Three hours of this pleasant experience brought us near the end of the fiord, where it narrows to a mile in breadth; and then, winding in hook-like shape between the hills, it finally vanishes in a point in the midst of a verdant valley which, miles in width, stretches away to the base of the Redkammen, one of the noblest mountains to the artist-eye, and one of the boldest landmarks to the mariner, in all Greenland, conspicuous everywhere as Greenland is for its lofty and picturesque scenery.
And there Redkammen stood in its solitary grandeur, away up in a streak of fleecy summer clouds, its white top now melting with them into space, now standing out in soft faint line in heaven’s tenderest blue. And what a heaven it was ! The great mountain rose, step by step in green and purple, and the cloud trailing from its summit melted in the distance and bridged the space that divides the known from the vast unknown.
The general topographical features of the region are here not without importance in the picture of the situation. Thus far we had come up the fiord with the mainland (on which, beyond Redkammen, stood Brattahlid and Gardar) on our right, and on our left a long and lofty island bearing the euphonious native name of Aukpeitsavik. After passing beyond this island, and before reaching the narrow part of the fiord, we entered a sea some five miles wide, fronting an immense line of cliffs, the altitude of which I estimated at from fifteen to eighteen hundred feet, including the ample slope at their base, which stretches along the north side of the fiord and finally is lost in the valley at the foot of Redkammen. This slope is covered with verdure, except where it is here and there broken by a low cliff or rocky ledge.
At the front of this green slope stood, some centuries ago, the Norse hamlet of Krakotok, the ruins of which we were now seeking.
Mr. Anton pointed out to the oarswomen what he took to be the spot; the oarswomen held a chattering consultation as to the exact locality, and the steersman was consulted as to the correctness of each opinion. During the progress of this discussion our glasses were in requisition, and all doubt was quickly removed as to the accuracy of our steering by an announcement from one of the party that “ he saw the church.” We were not long now in reaching land, and were soon ashore on a beach of sand and shingle, and then came a scramble for first entrance into the ruin.
The scramble was over a slope of tangled underbrush and grass, speckled with bright flowers, — trailing junipers and matted crake-berry ; willow-bushes, and whortleberry-bushes in full fruit; the angelica so luscious, and the andromeda so fragrant; the hardy festucae and the graceful poa ; the dandelion, the buttercup, the bluebell; the crow’s-foot and the cochlearia, and a hundred familiar plants, bushes, and flowers, to make a soft carpet for the feet, or to trip us up if we ventured on too fast.
But, horror of horrors ! what was that ? was it a mosquito’s buzz ? Surely it was. There could be no doubt about it. A hundred, — ay, a thousand, — ten thousand times a thousand insects buzz in our ears. They fill the very air. It is most surprising, and is not pleasant. Yet still, for all, we reach the ruin through the hungry, buzzing cloud; and then, enveloping our heads in handkerchiefs and our hands in gloves, prepare ourselves to photograph the scenery and sketch the ruins, and to wonder at them.
The buildings are nine in number, as I find on close examination, — a church, a tomb, six dwellings, and one round tower ; and besides there were the remains of a thick, high wall enclosing some of them.
These are not, however, all the ruins on this branch of the fiord, for they are dotted everywhere along its green and sloping banks. But these make up the cluster which once belonged to the church estate, — to the officers who governed the country roundabout, and administered, in this distant place, at what was then thought to be the farthest limits of the habitable globe, the ordinances of the Pope of Rome.
But some mention of the people who dwelt here, and of whence they came and of how they disappeared, seems to be necessary before we further describe the ruins they have left behind them; and I hope that the reader may have found sufficient interest in my narrative thus far, to pause for a while over a scrap of Norseland history.
VII. “LOST GREENLAND.”
WITH most persons, to mention Greenland is to suggest a paradox. The name is, in itself, well enough, and pleasant enough to the ear; but the associations which it recalls are somewhat chilly, and altogether the reverse of what the name would seem to call for. Why Greenland at all ?
It received its name some eight hundred and seventy-odd years ago ; that is to say, it was discovered and occupied in the year 983 of the Christian era, when the climate was probably milder than it is to-day. I should, however, rather say that it was then rediscovered, since, years before that time,—as we learn from the Landnama, or Iceland Doomsday-Book of Aré Frode, that is, Aré the Wise, —one Gunnbiörn, a Norwegian, having been driven by a storm to the west of Iceland, discovered some skerries, to which he gave his name ; and afterwards he saw an extensive land, and lofty mountains covered with snow. But nothing more was known of it until 983.
An old Norse saga of Aré Frode, written in Iceland about the year 1100, the original of which was in existence up to 1651, and a copy of which is still preserved in Copenhagen, thus relates the story : —
“ The land which is called Greenland was discovered and settled from Iceland. Eric the Red was the man, from Bredefiord, who passed thither from hence [Iceland], and took possession of that portion of the country now called Ericsfiord. But the name he gave to the whole country was Greenland. ' For,’quoth he, ' if the land have a good name, it will cause many to come thither.’ He first colonized the land fourteen or fifteen winters before Christianity was introduced into Iceland, as was told to Thorkil Gelluson in Greenland, by one who had himself accompanied Eric thither.”
Now since this Thorkil Gelluson was Aré Frode’s uncle, it is clear that the historian was likely to be pretty accurate in his information. Eric the Red seems to have been a high-spirited outlaw, and in consequence of being somewhat too much addicted to the then popular pastime of cutting people’s throats, he was banished from Iceland for three years, and went in search of the land of Gunnbiörn. Previous to this, both he and his father, who was an Earl of Jadar in Norway, had been banished from their native country, and it seems pretty hard now that the red-headed son, who had sought an asylum in Iceland, should be sent off to unknown regions merely for killing a churlish knave who would not return a door-post that he had borrowed. Perhaps if the borrowed article had been a book instead of a door-post, they would never have banished him for the murder ; for the people of Iceland were then, and continued to be for several centuries afterward, the freest, the most intellectual, the most highly cultivated of any in the north of Europe. In fact, they gave literature and laws to the whole of Scandinavia. The child was wiser than the parent. Here writers first gave shape to the Norse mythology; and much of the best blood of Denmark and Norway is proudly traced to ancient Iceland.
Eric set sail from Bredefiord in a small, half-decked ship, and in three days he sighted Greenland. Not liking the looks of it, he coasted southward until he came to a turning-place or Haarf, now Cape Farewell; and thence he made his way northward to what he called Ericsfiord, the site of the modern Julianshaab, where he passed the three years of his forced exile.
Returning to Iceland, Eric was graciously received, and had no trouble in obtaining twenty-five shiploads of adventurous men, with whom he set sail for the country he had discovered. Fourteen only of these ships, however, reached their destination. The others were either lost at sea, or were forced by bad weather to return to Iceland.
Eric was resolved to found a nation for himself, and this was the nucleus of his empire. He took his fourteen ships into Ericsfiord, and at once began a settlement. Others followed him, and the settlement was enlarged; and some even went farther north, beyond what is now known as the “ Land of Desolation.” In after years they even penetrated so far as the islands where Upernavik now stands, in latitude 720 50', as we know from a Runic inscription on a stone discovered by Sir Edward Parry in 1824. The inscription is thus translated : —
“ Erlig Sighvatson and Biorn Thordveson and Eindrid Oddson on Saturday before Ascension week raised these marks and cleared ground, 1135.”
Think of “ clearing ground ” in Greenland up in latitude 720 50'! But then it must be borne in mind that this happened more than seven hundred years ago, when there was clearly less ice than at the present time.
The first people who migrated northward from Ericsfiord settled in the neighborhood of the present site of modern Godthaab, and this colony became known as the Vesterbygd, that is to say, western inhabited place, while Eric’s colony in Ericsfiord was called the Osterbygd, or eastern inhabited place. The fiord is, however, no longer known by the name which Eric gave it, but is marked down upon the maps as the Fiord of Igalliko, as we have already seen.
Eric’s first settlement was named Brattahlid. The next was called Gardar, after the principal man who went there under Eric’s direction. Other colonies were founded, up and down the coast, and among them the conspicuous one of Krakotok.
From the very first these colonies prospered. The inhabitants increased rapidly in numbers, until in a few years the hills around Ericsfiord echoed to seven thousand voices. The fame of Greenland had spread far and wide, and people flocked thither from Norway, from Denmark, from the Hebrides, and from Iceland. And they were for the most part an industrious, contented, and sober people. They abandoned the arts of war when they turned their backs on Europe, and they were soon wholly taken up with the arts of peace. They built strong and comfortable houses, they cultivated the land, they reared large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, and in beef and wool they conducted an extensive trade with Norway. “Greenland beef” became “ a famous dish to set before the king.” The grass grew richly, and the pastures were of limitless extent. Fish and game were abundant at all seasons. The summers were warm and the winters not more severe than those to which the settlers had been accustomed.
Thus did the people of ancient Greenland live and flourish. But it seems strange to find them wandering so far away from the lines of conquest and colonization of their brothers and ancestors. For they were kindred of the Northman Rollo, who ravaged the banks of the Seine and played buffoon with the king of France; the same with those Danes who in Anglo-Saxon times conquered the half of England ; descendants they were of the same Cimbri who threatened Rome in the days of Marius, and of the Scythian soldiers of conquered Mithridates, who under Odin migrated from the borders of the Euxine Sea to the north of Europe, whence their posterity descended within a thousand years by the Mediterranean, and flourished their battle-axes in the streets of Constantinople ; fellows they were of all the sea-kings and vikings and “barbarians” of the North, whose god of war was their former general, and who, scorning a peaceful death, sought for Odin’s “ bath of blood ” whenever and wherever they could find it.
But here in Greenland they seem to have lost in a great measure the traditional ferocity of their race, though not its adventurous spirit. A son of Eric named Lief, and surnamed the Fortunate, sailed westward and discovered America. Previously, however, this same son had visited Norway and become a Christian.
These two voyages of Lief symbolize the character of this wonderful race of Northmen. They were ever ready for adventure, and ever ready for change. Love of change made their conversion to Christianity easy; love of adventure ended in the crowning glory of their career, their landing on the shores of America.
Lief’s voyage to America was made in the year 1001. His brother Thorvald followed after him the next year, and the new land was called Vinland (Vinland hin goda), from the great quantities of wild grapes found there, of which they made wine. Thorvald was killed by the savages, and his brother Thorstein went in search of his body the next year, and died without finding it. Then came Thorfinn Karlsefne, surnamed the Hopeful, an Icelander, who had gone to Brattahlid in 1006. The old saga describes him as a man of great wealth, and at Brattahlid he was the guest of Lief, with whom he spent the winter, falling in love with Gudrid, the widow of Lief’s brother Thorstein, and marrying her. They spoke much about Vinland, and finally resolved on a voyage thither ; and they got together a company of one hundred and sixty, among whom were five women, Gudrid being one. “ Then they made an agreement with Karlsefne, that each should have equal share they made of gain. They had with them all kinds of cattle, intending to settle in Vinland ” ; and then they sailed on their voyage, and in course of time they came to Wonderstrand, which is supposed to be Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and found Lief’s houses. Then they went on to Rhode Island, and spent the winter near Mount Hope Bay. But the natives came out of the woods and troubled them so that they had no peace. They finally fought a great battle and killed many of the natives, whom they called Skrællings. One of them had a long beard like themselves. Although winning this battle, they were finally compelled to go back to Greenland, without having made much profit by their voyage and without having founded a settlement. But Thorfinn Karlsefne had a son born to him in America, in the year 1007, to whom he gave the name of Snorre, and from whom was descended a line of men famous in Icelandic history.
Afterward, in 1011, a sister of Lief, named Freydis, went to Vinland, and lived for some time in the same place which her brothers had before occupied ; and after this other voyages were made, of which we have record ; but whether any permanent settlements were made by the Northmen in America is an open question ; though one might well suppose they were, from the fact that Bishop Erik paid a visit to Vinland in 1121, during his Greenland mission, and the fact that as late as 1347 we have written accounts of Greenlanders going from Brattahlid to Markland (Nova Scotia) to cut timber. Who knows what influence these adventurous voyages may have subsequently had upon the discovery of America by Columbus ? That great navigator made a visit to Iceland in 1477, and may he not there have learned of this land of the grape and wine to the westward, and may not the tales of the Icelanders have encouraged his western aspirations, which are said to have first originated in 1470 ?
With respect to this Norse discovery of America, Humboldt remarks as follows in the Cosmos, basing his observations upon Rafn’s Antiquitates Americanœ : “ Parts of America were seen, although no landing was made on them, fourteen years before Lief Ericson, in the voyage which Björne Herjolfson undertook from Greenland to the southward in 986. Lief first saw land at the island of Nantucket, 1° south of Boston; then in Nova Scotia; and lastly in Newfoundland, which was subsequently called ' Libia Helluland,’ but never ‘ Vinland.’ The gulf which divides Newfoundland from the mouth of the great river St. Lawrence was called by the Northmen, who had settled in Iceland and Greenland, Markland’s Gulf.”
But the introduction of Christianity into Greenland is much more important to our present purpose. This happened in the year 1000. Lief had gone to Norway the year before. The saga states that, —
“ When fourteen winters were passed from the time that Eric the Red set forth to Greenland, his son Lief sailed from thence to Norway, and came thither in the autumn that King Olaf Tryggvason arrived in the North from Halgaland. Lief brought up his ship at Nidaros (Drontheim), and went straight to the king. Olaf declared unto him the true faith, as was his custom unto all heathens who came before him, and it was not hard for the king to persuade Lief thereto, and he was baptized, and with him all his crew.”
Nor was it hard for King Olaf to “ persuade” his subjects generally “ thereto.” His Christianity was very new and rather muscular, and under the persuasive influence of the sword this royal missionary made more proselytes than ever were made before or since, in the same space of time, by all the monks put together.
When Lief came back to Greenland with a new religion, and a priest to boot, his father Eric was much incensed, and declared the act pregnant with mischief: but after a while he was prevailed upon to acknowledge the new religion, and at the same time he gave his wife, Thjodhilda, leave to erect a church, she having been from the first a willing convert.
Thus runs the saga: “Lief straightway began to declare the universal faith throughout the land ; and he laid before the people the message of King Olaf Tryggvason, and detailed unto them how much grandeur and great nobleness there was attached to the new belief Eric was slow to determine to leave his ancient faith, but Thjodhilda, his wife, was quickly persuaded thereto, and she built a kirk, which was called Thjodhilda’s Kirk. And from the time that she received the faith, she separated from Eric, her husband, which did sorely grieve him.”
Whether this first Greenland church was built at Brattahlid or Gardar or Krakotok is not now positively known ; but we might conclude it was the latter, from the fact that an old man named Grima, who lived at Brattahlid, made complaint that “ I get but seldom to the church to hear the words of learned clerks, for it is a long journey thereto.” This much, however, we know,—the church was begun in 1002, and was known far and wide as “Thjodhilda’s Kirk.” Several churches were built afterward; and in course of time the Christian population of Greenland became so numerous that the Bishops of Iceland made frequent voyages thither to administer the duties of that part of their see. A hundred years thus passed away. The colonies had multiplied greatly; their trade with Iceland, Norway, and Denmark was profitable and the intercourse regular; the inhabitants were well governed ; and, wholly unmolested by the outside world, and for a long time undisturbed by wars and rumors of wars, they lived a Christian people, in the peaceful possession of their personal liberties, and in the enjoyment of every needful thing.
One thing only was lacking in their scheme of perfect independence. They needed a bishop of their own, which would make them wholly, in spiritual as they had been in temporal matters, free from dependence upon Iceland. And in truth the Icelanders prized their own freedom and independence too much to withhold their support from the aspirations of their brethren, the Greenlanders. Numerous petitions were therefore soon obtained and despatched, to secure the good offices of the king of Norway. For a time these efforts were attended with but partial success, since a temporary bishop only was vouchsafed them, in the person of Erik, who set out for Greenland in 1120, and returned home after visiting Vinland.
Then one of their chief men, named Sokke, grew indignant, and declared that Greenland should, like every other country, have a bishop of its own. Their personal honor, the national pride, — to say nothing of the safety of the Christian faith itself, — demanded it; and a bishop they must have. Accordingly, under the advice of Sokke, a large present of walrus-ivory and valuable furs was voted to the king ; and Einer, Sokke’s son, was commissioned to carry the petition and the presents.
The result proved that the Greenlanders were wise in their choice of means; — at least, either through the earnestness of their appeals, or the value of the presents, or the persuasiveness of the ambassador, or through all combined, they obtained, in the year 1126, Bishop Arnold, who forthwith founded his episcopal see at Gardar, and there erected a cathedral.
Arnold seems to have been a most excellent, pious, and earnest leader of these strugglingChristians. Zealous as the famous monk of Iona, without the impulsiveness of that great apostle of Scotland, he bound his charge together in the bonds of Christian love, and gave unity and happiness to a peaceful people.
Bishop Arnold died in 1152, and thenceforth, until the year 1409, the “ see of Gardar ” which he had founded was maintained. According to Baron Holberg, in his history of Denmark, seventeen successive bishops administered the ordinances of the church of Gardar, the list terminating with Andreas, who was consecrated in 1406. The last we hear of him and the see of Gardar was three years afterward, when he officiated at a marriage from which men now living are proud to trace their ancestry.
About this time the Greenland colonies rapidly declined. The first blow had come in the form of a royal decree, laying a prohibition on the Greenland trade, and creating it a monopoly of the crown. But “ misfortunes never come singly.” In 1418 a hostile fleet made a descent upon the coast, and, after laying waste their buildings, carried off what plunder and as many captives as they could. Then the black death came to help their ruin ; the Esquimaux, or Skrællings, as they were called, grew bold in the presence of the diminished numbers, and completed the destruction which the crown of Norway had begun ; and thus a nation famed for centuries was swept away, and “Lost Greenland” passed into tradition.
There are numerous interesting records of the struggles of these Greenlanders. In 1383 we find the following curious entry in the Icelandic annals, which shows to what straits the Greenland commerce, once so prosperous, had now become reduced : —
“A ship came from Greenland to Norway, which had lain in the former country for two whole years ; and certain men returned by this vessel who had escaped from the wreck of Thorlast’s ship. These men brought the news of Bishop Alf’s death from Greenland, which had taken place there six years before.”
Yet there were vestiges of life there even up to the middle of the fifteenth century. So late as 1448, Pope Nicholas the Fifth writes to the Bishop of Iceland, commending to his care what may be left of the ravished colonies.
“In regard,” says the Pope’s letter, “ to my beloved children born in and inhabiting the island of Greenland, which is said to be situated at the farthest limits of the Great Ocean, north of the kingdom of Norway, and in the see of Trondheim, their pitiable complaints have reached our ears and awakened our compassion; seeing that they have, for a period of near six hundred years, maintained, in firm and inviolate subjection to the authority and ordinances of the apostolic chair, the Christian faith established among them by the preaching of their renowned teacher, King Olaf, and have, actuated by a pious zeal for the interests of religion, erected many churches, and among others a cathedral, in that island ; where religious service was diligently performed until about thirty years ago, when some heathen foreigners from the neighboring coasts came against them with a fleet, fell upon them furiously, laid waste the country and its holy buildings with fire and sword, sparing nothing throughout the whole island of Greenland but the small parishes said to be situated a long way off, — and which they were prevented from reaching by the mountains and precipices intervening, — and carrying away into captivity the wretched inhabitants of both sexes, particularly such of them as were considered to be strong of body and able to endure the labors of perpetual slavery,”
Furthermore, the letter states that some of them who were carried away captive have returned, but that the organization of the colonies is destroyed, and the worship of God is given up because there are neither priests nor bishops ; and finally the bishop of Iceland is enjoined to send to Greenland “ some fit and proper person for their bishop, if the distance between you and them permit.”
But the distance did not permit; at least there is no evidence of any action having been taken ; and this is the last we know of ancient Greenland. Its modern history begins in 1721 with the missionary labors of Hans Egede. But not a vestige of the old Northmen remained when Egede came there, except the ruins of their villages, their churches, and their farms. About four hundred years had passed away, and in that time these hills and rocks that once echoed the sound of the churchbell and the voices of Christian people had known nothing but the shouts of skin-clad savages and the cries of wild beasts.
Few people imagine the extent of these ancient Greenland colonies. At best it seems to most persons some sort of arctic fable, and they are hardly prepared to learn that of this Greenland nation contemporary records, histories, papal briefs, and grants of land yet exist. So complete was the destruction of the colonies, and so absolutely were they lost to the rest of the world, that for centuries Europe was in doubt respecting their fate, and up to a very recent period was ignorant of their geographical position.
Twenty years ago the Dublin Review thus alluded to the ruins of these ancient towns in Greenland : —
“ To the Catholic they must be doubly interesting when he learns that here as in his own land the traces of his faith, of that faith which is everywhere the same, are yet distinctly to be found; that the sacred temples of our worship may still be identified; nay, that, in at least one instance, the church itself, with its burial-ground, its aumbries, its holywater-stoup, and its tombstones bearing the sacred emblem of the Catholic belief and the pious petitions for the prayer of the surviving faithful, still remain to attest that here once dwelt a people who were our brethren in the Church of God. It was not, as in our own land, that these churches, these fair establishments of the true faith, were ruined by the lust and avarice of a tyrant; no change of religion marked the history of the church of Greenland ; the colonies had been lost before the fearful religious calamities of the sixteenth century. How or when they were swept away we scarcely know, save from a few scattered notices and from the traditions of the wandering Esquimaux, a heathen people that burst in upon the old colonists of Greenland, and laid desolate their sanctuaries and their homes, till not one man was left alive.”