30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Michael H. Gelting, "Poppo's Ordeal: Courtier Bishops and the Success of Christianization at the Turn of the Millennium"

Following upon almost two centuries of failures and setbacks, the conversion to Christianity of the pagan realms in northern and eastern Europe within a fairly short span of years around the Millennium was a remarkable success. Quite rightly, historians have interpreted the process as a political one rather than a purely religious matter. However, explanations of the process have tended to focus upon internal conditions and developments within each of the converted realms. In this paper I intend to argue that the success of Christianization at this particular time should rather be understood on the background of ideological and political changes in the tenth century in the realms which furthered the missionary effort, i.e. the German kingdom and, secondarily, Anglo-Saxon England. In particular, it will be argued that the new episcopal ideal of politically savvy, eloquent courtier bishops, nominated by the king and seeing themselves as the principal supports of an exalted kingship, had a much stronger appeal to pagan rulers than the monastic missionaries who had been the backbone of the conversion efforts of the ninth century. This hypothesis will be based on a case study of the conversion of Denmark, traditionally dated c.965, taking its point of departure in the recent revival of the identification of the “missionary” Poppo with the later Archbishop Folkmar/Poppo of Cologne. This identification allows a redating of Poppo’s famous ordeal, and it makes it possible to sketch the political context of the event and its potentially dire consequences for the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen.


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