The Iceland Guide

Companion websites

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Illustrated travel articles about various countries, including France, Iceland, Scotland and the USA.

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Books by David Williams
These include travel guides to Iceland and Scotland.

The land and the people

History: The conversion to Christianity

Towards the end of the tenth century, the effect of Christianity's widespread adoption in Northern Europe began to make itself felt in Iceland. The numbers of Icelandic travellers to mainland Europe who returned converted increased steadily, particularly after Ólaf Tryggvason became King of Norway.

While Iceland paid no allegiance to the Norwegian king, Iinks between the two countries naturally remained close, with many prominent Icelanders paying annual visits to Norway and seeking wealth, advancement and distinction at the Court. King Ólaf was an enthusiastic Christian: he had been converted by Aelfea, Bishop of Winchester, during a military campaign against the British Isles and had pledged to bring Christianity to the Northlands.

He now did all he could to convert Icelandic visitors to his court, rewarding them well for conversion, and sending his chaplain, Thangbrand to preach in Iceland. Thangbrand's robust style of conversion — he was not averse to fighting duels to prove the superiority of his religion — met great success and between 997 and 999 many leading goðar were baptised.

Matters were now clearly coming to a head, with religious tensions rising as there had been some bloodshed. In 1000, the Althing met, and the Christian goðar and their followers, unwilling to accept the ruling of the official pagan Althing, proposed that they should secede and set up their own Christian commonwealth.

Faced with the prospect of the religious civil war this secession would almost inevitably produce, and aware that the powerful and aggressive King of Norway stood behind the Christians, the Althing, with impressive pragmatism, took the political, rather than religious, decision to convert to Christianity.

What`s in the website ?


The land and the people

The first explorers
The Age of the Settlement
The conversion to Christianity
The discovery of Greenland and America
The collapse of the Commonwealth
The Dark Ages
The nineteenth century
The twentieth century
Culture in the Icelandic environment
Old Icelandic literature
Eddic and skaldic poetry
The Sagas
Later literature
Modern literature
Painting, sculpture and music
The Icelanders
Traditional living conditions
The seasons
Changes in the modern world
Independent minds
Superstition, morality and the media
The land
On the edge of Europe
The shape of the land
The volcanoes
The glaciers
The natural world
The climate
The economy and infrastructure
Industry and energy