Tuesday, June 26, 2012


St. Anskar

Feast day: February 3
801 - 865

Born in Picardy, St. Anskar was the apostle to the Scandinavians. He was educated at Corbie, a Benedictine monastery, and taught at Corvey, a daughter house in Westphalia. Louis I the Pious had at that time allied himself with Harald of Denmark in a dynastic dispute on the condition that Harald and his country become Christian. When Louis sought a missionary, Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims and Abbot Wala of Corvey recommended Anskar. His mission began c. 826 in Schleswig and ended the following year with Harald's defeat. Bjorn of Sweden later permitted Anskar to preach in Sweden, where he established the first church in Scandinavia at Björnskö. Louis named Anskar first bishop of Hamburg in 831, and the following year, Gregory IV appointed him papal legate to the Scandinavians. The Swedish mission collapsed in 845, after Vikings destroyed Hamburg. Appointed Archbishop of Bremen in 851, Anskar renewed his missionary work and converted Haarik II of Sweden. Anskar did as much as he could to alleviate the harsh conditions of the Viking slave trade. He also founded hospitals. Nicholas I canonized Anskar shortly after his death.

 (also known as Anskar, Anschar, Anscharius, Scharies) Born near Amiens, Picardy, France in 801; died in Bremen, Germany on February 3, 865.

 With the coming of the barbarian after the death of Charlemagne, darkness fell upon Europe. From the forests and fjords of the north, defying storm and danger, came a horde of pirate invaders, prowling round the undefended coasts, sweeping up the broad estuaries, and spreading havoc and fear. No town, however fair, no church, however sacred, and no community, however strong, was immune from their fury. Like a river of death the Vikings poured across Europe.

 It's hard to believe that there would be an outbreak of missionary activity at such a time, but in Europe's darkest hour there were those who never faltered, and who set out to convert the pagan invader. Saint Ansgar was such a man. As a young boy of a noble family he was received at Corbie monastery in Picardy and educated under Saints Abelard and Paschasius Radbert. Once professed, he was transferred to New Corbie at Westphalia. He once said to a friend, "One miracle I would, if worthy, ask the Lord to grant me; and that is, that by His grace, he would make me a good man."

 In France a call was made for a priest to go as a missionary to the Danes, and Ansgar, a young monk, volunteered. His friends tried to dissuade him, so dangerous was the mission. Nevertheless, when King Harold, who had become a Christian during his exile, returned to Denmark, Ansgar and another monk accompanied him. Equipped with tents and books, these two monks set out in 826 and founded a school in Denmark. Here Anskar's companion died, and he was obliged to move on to Sweden alone when his success in missionary work led King Bjoern to invite him to Sweden.

 On the way, his boat was attacked by pirates and he lost all his possessions, arriving destitute at a small Swedish village. After this unpromising start, he succeeded in forming the nucleus of a church--the first Christian church in Sweden--and penetrated inland, confronting the heathen in their strongholds and converting the pagan chiefs.

 Ansgar became the first archbishop of Hamburg, Germany, and abbot of New Corbie in Westphalia c. 831. The Pope Gregory IV appointed him legate to the Scandinavian countries and confided the Scandinavian souls to his care. He evangelized there for the next 14 years, building churches in Norway, Denmark, and northern Germany.

 He saw his accomplishments obliterated when pagan Vikings invaded in 845, overran Scandinavia, and destroyed Hamburg. Thereafter, the natives reverted to paganism. Ansgar was then appointed first archbishop of Bremen around 848, but he was unable to establish himself there for a time and Pope Nicholas I united that see with Hamburg. Nicholas also gave him jurisdiction over Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

 Ansgar returned to Denmark and Sweden in 854 to resume spreading the Gospel. When he returned to Denmark he saw the church and school he had built there destroyed before his eyes by an invading army.

 His heart almost broke as he saw his work reduced to ashes. "The Lord gave," he said, "and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord." With a handful of followers he wandered through his ruined diocese, but it was a grim and weary time. "Be assured, my dear brother," said the primate of France, who had commissioned him to this task, "that what we have striven to accomplish for the glory of Christ will yet, by God's help, bring forth fruit."

 Heartened by these words, and with unfailing courage, Anskar pursued his Swedish mission. Though he had but four churches left and could find no one willing to go in his place, he established new outposts and consolidated his work.

 King Olaf had cast a die to decide whether to allow the entrance of Christians, an action that Ansgar mourned as callous and unbefitting. He was encouraged, however, by a council of chiefs at which an aged man spoke in his defense. "Those who bring to us this new faith," he said, "by their voyage here have been exposed to many dangers. We see our own deities failing us. Why reject a religion thus brought to our very doors? Why not permit the servants of God to remain among us? Listen to my counsel and reject not what is plainly for our advantage."

 As a result, Ansgar was free to preach the Christian faith, and though he met with many setbacks, he continued his work until he died at he age of 64 and was buried at Bremen. He was a great missionary, an indefatigable, outstanding preacher, renowned for his austerity, holiness of life, and charity to the poor. He built schools and was a great liberator of slaves captured by the Vikings. He converted King Erik of the Jutland and was called the 'Apostle of the North.' Yet Sweden reverted completely to paganism shortly after Ansgar's death.

 Ansgar often wore a hairshirt, lived on bread and water when his health permitted it, and added short personal prayers to each Psalm in his psalter, thus contributing to a form of devotion that soon became widespread.

 Miracles were said to have been worked by him. After Ansgar's death, the work he had begun came to a stop and the area reverted to paganism. Christianity did not begin to make headway in Scandinavia until two centuries later with the work of Saint Sigfrid and others. A life was written about Ansgar by his fellow missionary in Scandinavia, Saint Rembert (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Gill, Robinson, White).

 In art Ansgar shown with converted Danes near him (White), wearing a fur pelisse (Roeder). He may sometimes be shown otherwise in a boat with King Harold and companions or in a cope and miter, holding Hamburg Cathedral (Roeder).

 Saint Ansgar is the patron of Denmark, Germany, and Iceland (White). He is venerated in Old Corbie (Picardy) and New Corbie (Saxony) as well as in Scandinavia

 While the Roman calendar lists both Anskar and Ansgar on this day-- as two separate individuals. It appears that they are one and the same person.

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