(1.) The Bulgarians, who had come from Asia in the end of the seventh century, and had settled in the country which still takes its name from them, were converted by missionaries of the Greek Church. It is said that, when some beginning of the work had been made, and the king himself had been baptized by the patriarch of Constantinople (AD 861), the king asked the Greek emperor to send him a painter to adorn the walls of his palace; and that a monk named Methodius was sent accordingly, for in those times monks were the only persons who practised such arts as painting. The king desired him to paint a hall in the palace with subjects of a terrible kind, by which he meant that the pictures should be taken from the perils of hunting. But, instead of such subjects, Methodius painted the last judgment, as being the most terrible of all things; and the king, on seeing the picture of hell with its torments, and being told that such would be the future place of the heathen, was so terrified that he gave up the idols which he had kept until then, and that many of his subjects were also moved to seek admission into the Church.
Although the conversion of Bulgaria had been the work of Greek missionaries, the popes afterwards sent some of their clergy into the country, and claimed it as belonging to them; and this was one of the chief causes why the Greek and the Latin Churches separated from each other so that they have never since been really reconciled.
(2.) It is not certain whether the painter Methodius was the same as a monk of that name, who, with his brother named Cyril, brought about the conversion of Moravia (AD 863). These missionaries went about their work in a different way from what was common; for it had been usual for the Greek clergy to use the Greek language, and for the Western clergy to use the Latin, in their church service and in other things relating to religion; but instead of this, Cyril and Methodius learnt the language of the country, and translated the church-services, with parts of the holy Scriptures, into it: so that all might be understood by the natives. In Moravia, too, there was a quarrel between the Greek and the Latin clergy; but, although the popes usually insisted that the services of the Church should be either in Latin or in Greek (because these were two of the languages which were written over the Saviour's cross), they were so much pleased with the success of Cyril and Methodius, that they allowed the service of the Moravian Church to be still in the language of the country.
(3.) Soon after the conversion of the Moravians, the duke of Bohemia paid a visit to their king, Swatopluk, who received him with great honour, but at dinner set him and his followers to sit on the floor, as being heathens. Methodius, who was at the king's table, spoke to the duke, and said that he was sorry to see so great a prince obliged to feed as if he were a swineherd. "What should I gain by becoming a Christian," he replied, and when Methodius told him that the change would raise him above all kings and princes, he and his thirty followers were baptized.
A story of the same kind is told as to the conversion of the Carinthians, which was brought about in the end of the eighth century by a missionary named Ingo, who asked Christian slaves to eat at his own table, while he caused food to be set outside the door for their heathen masters, as if they had been dogs. This led the Carinthian nobles to ask questions; and in consequence of what they heard they were baptized, and their example was followed by their people generally.
The second bishop of Prague, the chief city of Bohemia, Adalbert, is famous as having gone on a mission to the heathens of Prussia, by whom he was martyred on the shore of the Frische Haff in 997.
(4.) In the north of Germany, in Denmark, and in Sweden, Anskar, who had been a monk at Corbey, on the Weser, laboured for thirty-nine years with earnest devotion and with great success (AD 826-865). In addition to preaching the Gospel of salvation, he did much in such charitable works as the building of hospitals and the redemption of captives; and he persuaded the chief men of the country north of the Elba to give up their trade in slaves, which had been a source of great profit to them, but which Anskar taught them to regard as contrary to the Christian religion. Anskar was made archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen, and is styled "The Apostle of the North." But he had to suffer many dangers and reverses in his endeavours to do good. At one time, when Hamburg was burnt by the Northmen, he lost his church, his monastery, his library, and other property; but he only said, with the patriarch Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" Then he set to work again, without being discouraged by what had befallen him, and he even made a friend of the heathen king who had led the attack on Hamburg. Anskar died in the year 865. It is told that when some of his friends were talking of miracles which he was supposed to have done, he said, "If I were worthy in my Lord's sight, I would ask of Him to grant me one miracle -- that He would make me a good man."
(5.) The Russians were visited by missionaries from Greece, from Rome, and from Germany, so that for a time they wavered between the different forms of the Christian religion which were offered to them; but at length they decided for the Greek Church. When their great prince (who at his baptism took the name of Basil) had been converted (AD 988), he ordered that the idol of the chief god who had been worshipped by the Russians should be dragged at a horse's tail through the streets of the capital, Kieff, and should be thrown into the river Dnieper. Many of the people burst into tears at the sight; but when they were told that the prince wished them to be baptized, they said that a change of religion must be good if their prince recommended it; and they were baptized in great numbers. "Some," we are told, "stood in the water up to their necks, others up to their breasts, holding their young children in their arms; and the priests read the prayers from the bank of the river, naming at once whole companies by the same name."
(6.) I might give an account of the spreading of the Gospel in Poland, Hungary, and other countries; but let us keep ourselves to the north of Europe. Although Anskar had given up his whole life to missionary work among the nations near the Baltic Sea, there was still much to be done, and sometimes conversion was carried on in ways which to us seem very strange. As an instance of this, I may give some account of a Norwegian king named Olave, the son of Tryggve.
Olave was at first a heathen, and had long been a famous sea-rover, when he was converted and baptized in one of the Scilly islands (AD 994). He took up his new religion with a great desire to spread it among his people, and he went about from one part of Norway to another, everywhere destroying temples and idols, and requiring the people to he baptized whether they were willing or not. At one place he found eighty heathens, who were supposed to be wizards. He first tried to convert them in the morning when they were sober, and again in the evening when they were enjoying themselves over their horns of ale; and as he could not persuade them, whether they were sober or drunk, he burnt their temple over their heads. All the eighty perished except one, who made his escape; and this man afterwards fell into the king's hands, and was thrown into the sea.
At another time, Olave fell in with a young man named Endrid, who agreed to become a Christian if any one whom the king might appoint should beat him in diving, in archery, and in sword-play. Olave himself undertook the match, and got the better of Endrid in all the trials; and then Endrid gave in, and allowed himself to be converted and baptized. These were strange ways of spreading the Gospel; but they seem to have had their effect on the rough men of the North.
At last, Olave was attacked by some of his heathen neighbours, and was beaten in a great sea-fight (AD 1000). It was generally believed that he had perished in the sea; but there is a story of a Norwegian pilgrim who, nearly fifty pears later, lost his way among the sands of Egypt, and lighted on a lonely monastery, with an old man of his own country as its abbot. The abbot put many questions to him, and asked him to carry home a girdle and a sword and to give them with a message to a warrior who had fought bravely beside King Olave in his last battle; and on receiving them the old warrior was assured that the Egyptian abbot could be no other than his royal master, who had been so long supposed to be dead.
Somewhat later than Olave the son of Tryggve (AD 1015), Norway had another king Olave, who was very zealous for the spreading of the Gospel among his people, and, like the elder Olave, was willing to do so by force if he could not manage the matter otherwise. On his visiting a place called Dalen, a bishop named Grimkil, who accompanied him, set forth the Christian doctrine, but the heathens answered that their own god was better than the God of the Christians, because he could be seen. The king spent the greater part of the night in prayer, and next morning at daybreak the idol of the northern god Thor was brought forward by his worshippers. Olave pointed to the rising sun, as being a witness to the glory of its Maker; and, while the heathens were gazing on its brightness, a tall soldier, to whom the king had given his orders beforehand, lifted up his club and dashed the idol to pieces. A swarm of loathsome creatures, which had lived within the idol's huge body, and had fattened on the food and drink which were offered to it, rushed forth, as in the case of the image of Serapis, hundreds of years before (Part I, Chap. XVI); whereupon the men of Dalen were convinced of the falsehood of their old religion, and consented to be baptized. King Olave was at length killed in battle against his heathen subjects (AD 1030), and his memory is regarded as that of a saint.
(7.) From Norway the Gospel made its way to the Norwegian settlements in Iceland, and even in Greenland, where it long flourished, until, in the middle of the fifteenth century, ice gathered on the shores so as to make it impossible to land on them. About the same time a great plague, which was called the Black Death, carried off a large part of the settlers, and the rest were so few and so weak that they were easily killed by the natives.
It seems to be certain that some of the Norwegians from Greenland discovered a part of the American continent, although no traces of them remained there when the country was again discovered by Europeans, hundreds of years later.