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Churches, Christianity and Chieftains

...in the Norse Eastern Settlement

By Jette Arneborg

Replica of “Tjodhildes Church”. The remains of the little church were excavated in the beginning of the 1960s.

Written sources leave one with the impression that the Norwegian Crown initiated Christianizing of the Greenland Norse around 1000 AD. New studies in the North Atlantic region, however, indicate that Norse settlers were familiar with Christianity long before the time of the official initiative. Dating of human skeletal material from "Tjodhilde's Church" at Brattahlid points to the fact that at least some of the Norse pioneers in Greenland were Christians at the time of the initial 'landnam' or land taking.

How did relations between the centralised Nordic / European church and the supposedly privately owned churches in Greenland develop, and how did the new religious and political currents affect the social and economic structures in Greenland?

The position of the church at the Norse farm Ø23. The remains of the church are hidden in the dense growth of bushes, 2002.

Central for the discussion is the date and status of the small churches of the so-called "Qorlortoq type" – in size very similar to "Tjodhildes Church" at Brattahlid.

A dating project took place in 2001 and 2002 where archaeological excavations were undertaken at churches connected to the farms Ø1, Ø23, Ø33, Ø35 and Ø39 (with a supposed church) in Tunulliarfik Fjord and Ø48 in Igaliku Fjord.

A publication on the results of the investigations is planned for 2006/07.

Cutting the first turf at the church at Ø33, 2001.


Arneborg, J. "Kirke, kristendom & Storbønder i Grønland - et nyt forskningsprojekt". In: Kristningen af Norden – et 1000 års-jubilæum. Mindre Skrifter udgivet af Center for Middelalderstudier Syddansk Universitet, Odense vol. 21, 2002. pp. 8 - 26.