Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Christianization of Iceland: Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000-1300

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Christianization of Iceland: Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000-1300

Article excerpt

Orri Vesteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland: Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000-1300 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). xvi + 318 pp. ISBN 0-- 19-8207999. L48.00.

Orri Vesteinsson's book, based on his London Ph.D. thesis of 1996, investigates the development of ecclesiastical structures in post-conversion Iceland, and relates these to the development of secular power structures. The Christianization referred to in the book's title is therefore the external one of social and territorial organization, not the internal one of changing patterns of thought (or even, much, of behaviour). Within these terms, however, The Christiani.Zation of Iceland is an extremely secure and systematic piece of work, employing as its sources such varied material as charters, bishops' sagas, fiscal surveys, and archaeological excavations. As a whole the book amounts to a very thorough guide to the organization of the early Icelandic Church.

Vesteinsson's five central chapters investigate in turn the immediate (and minimal) post-conversion provision of pastoral care; the institution of the tithe law and the foundation of the monasteries; the growing connection between churches and (landed) property; the bishops of the early Icelandic Church; and its priests. Each of these chapters is solidly founded on primary sources, reviews the central questions with lucidity and care, and firmly takes issue with previous historiography where this is deemed necessary. Vesteinsson's command of the daunting prosopography of the Icelandic commonwealth, and his due attention to the role of physical geography, enable him to trace with some assurance the fluctuating complexities of regional and family politics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. …

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