It is the 29th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1030.
Well, if it's in the first century of the second millennium, there's probably going to be Vikings. Since the 8th century, various Vikings had patrolled the British Coast as either raiders or traders. We can more accurately speak of them as Norse people. When they act like pirates, we can use their word for piracy, "Viking."
By 1000, much of the British Isles was under the rule of Canute, the Danish king. However, local rulers sought to regain independence and push the Scandinavians back. Ethelred the Unready was one such English King who, tired of paying a ransom to Vikings, decided to massacre all Danes in English territories on St. Brice's Day. While there is some record of a kind massacre, it backfired, and Aethelred and his coterie were sent into exile. Of course, it was just a little bit later that the Vikings who settled in France, who became known as Normans, would whoop it up in 1066 at Hastings and all that.
The early 11th century also saw a dance craze. It was called St. Vitus Dance, and it's bizarre. St. Vitus was a martyr in the early church. We don't know very much about him. But around 1020 there were some of our earliest reports of "Choreomania" or dancing mania linked back to St. Vitus, usually associated around a church service. These were massive outbreaks of people dancing uncontrollably. It's a phenomenon attached to religious experiences of all kinds. Yet it was later named the St. Vitus dance, as it was believed that praying to him would stop the dancing, or in some cases, it was thought that he caused the malady.
Explanations ranged from a kind of epilepsy to mass hysteria. As the craze grew and continued, it would become a public nuisance for many European cities. It might help to remember the tenuous relationship between the church and dancing in general. From Augustine to Footloose to the code of conduct at my wife's old college, the church has seen dancing as a sin. Here's a hint for you all: if you get caught dancing, blame St. Vitus. Although, today, St. Vitus disease is also known as Chorea, an actual disorder that causes jerking movements akin to dancing.
Going from Vikings to dancing, and now we go back to Vikings. It is on this day, the 29th of July, that we remember St. Olaf Haraldsson, who is said to have died on this day in 1030. He is the last western saint accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Known as St. Olaf by the Norwegians, he is their patron saint, the first Norwegian king, and one of the most important men for the spreading of Christianity in medieval Norway.
Raised as a pagan, he became a Viking. He joined forces with Ethelred the Unready. The English ruler tried to stave off the Danes. Ethelred was, even with Olaf's help, not yet ready to beat the Danes. Soon the Danes ruled the English, and Olaf fled to Spain and then France. He was baptized in France and soon returned to unite the divided Norwegian lands.
In 1015, he successfully took back the Norwegian territories held by Denmark and Sweden. This made him popular in Norway, where he was able to consolidate the region, and using missionaries from England, help establish the Church of Norway. Eventually, the Danish and English coalition pushed Olaf out of Norway, where he hid with his wife's relatives in Russia. However, he made one more attempt at leading the Norwegians at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. There, despite help from the Swedes, Olaf was defeated by Norwegian peasants who had joined forces with the old Danish enemy. Olaf was killed at the battle on this, the 29th of July, in 1030.
The reading for today comes from the Middle Ages and the Greek church. This is a poem entitled, "Fierce was the Wild Billow," attributed to Anatolius and translated by John Mason Neale. Quick note: a "Euroclydon" is a strong Northeastern wind on the Mediterranean.
Fierce was the wild billow, Dark was the night;
Oars labored heavily, Foam glimmered white;
Trembled the mariners, Peril was nigh:
Then said the God of God, "Peace! it is I."
Ridge of the mountain wave, Lower thy crest!
Wail of Euroclydon, Be thou at rest!
Sorrow can never be, Darkness must fly,
Where saith the Light of light, "Peace! it is I."
Jesus, Deliverer, Come thou to me;
Soothe my voyaging Over life's sea:
Thou, when the storm of death Roars, sweeping by,
Whisper, O Truth of Truth, "Peace! it is I."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man more than six degrees from Kevin Bacon, Christopher "Footloose" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.