Category Archives: Christianity

The Reliquary of Saint Teresa of Calcutta


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Statue of Saint Teresa in the National Shrine, Washington DC (Photo: T. V. Antony Raj)
Statue of Saint Teresa in the National Shrine, Washington DC (Photo: T. V. Antony Raj)

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At every canonization ceremony in the Catholic Church, people connected to the new saint carry to the altar a relic in a reliquary which is often an ornate work of art in gold or silver.

A relic is a keepsake, a tangible reminder that the new saint was human yet heroically lived a life of holiness.

The relic may be the purported or actual physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. The authenticity of any given relic is often a matter of debate; for that reason, some churches require documentation of the relic’s provenance.

In the Catholic Church, a reliquary, also known as a shrine or by the French term châsse is used as a container for relics.

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The reliquary containing the relic of Saint Teresa
The reliquary containing the relic of Saint Teresa

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The relic presented at the Mass for St. Teresa of Calcutta was a few drops of her blood contained in a phial embedded within the centre of a wooden reliquary in the form of a simple cross reflecting her life and values.

The back of the cross-shaped reliquary is made from Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region, known as a symbol of nobility and spiritual greatness.

The front of the large cross is made of wood taken from places associated with Mother Teresa’s works of mercy: The first home for the dying she established in Calcutta, a home for those with Hansen’s disease, an immigrants’ boat, a Gypsy shack, and wood from the kneeler of a confessional because Mother Teresa believed the “Sacrament of Penance” also known as “Confession” or “Reconciliation” was the greatest expression of God’s mercy.

In the centre of the cross,  the phial of Mother Teresa’s blood is sealed in a glass orb in the shape of a water drop as a symbol of her vow to quench the thirst of those literally without water and those dying in the aridness of being unloved.

A roughly sculpted wrinkled hand supports the glass to symbolize that it carries this drop of water, full of love, in response to the cry of Jesus “I thirst” on the cross echoed by millions of people around the world.

The religious dress of the Missionaries of Charity bears special significance. The white colour of their sari stands for truth and purity and the three blue borders each signify the vows that the nuns of the Order take: the first thin band represents “Poverty”, the second thin band represents “Obedience”, and the third broad band represents the vows of “Chastity” and of “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

The water drop on the reliquary is framed by a heart of three sweeping bands of blue on the left and a white band on the right to symbolize the sari St. Teresa adopted as a habit for her sisters of Missionaries of Charity as well as to express devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The three sweeping bands of blue on the left side of the heart are curved and bent to represent St. Teresa’s own curved form bent in prayer. The white band on the right side of the heart displays the words, “I thirst in gold, reproduced in St. Teresa’s handwriting.

The base of the reliquary is made of battered iron to represent how society always sees the poor people whom Mother Teresa loved with her whole heart.

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The Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Vatican City


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
– Saint Teresa of Calcutta

 

Mother Teresa - A painting by Mark Sanislo
Mother Teresa – A painting by Mark Sanislo

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Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the “nun of the gutters”, a champion for the poor, the dying and the unborn died on September 5, 1997.

Scarcely two years after her death Monsignor Henry D’Souza, the then Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II to dispense with the five-year waiting period required before beginning the process of beatifying and canonizing Mother Teresa.

As a fitting climax to a process that stretched on for almost 19 years, Pope Francis on Sunday, September 4, 2016, a day before Mother Teresa’s 19th death anniversary, formally declared  Mother Teresa, as the newest saint of the Catholic Church at a ceremony that drew 100,000 pilgrims from around the world to St Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta be saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Holy Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis, however, acknowledged that despite the fact she now has a formal title as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta“, she will always remain “Mother Teresa” to the world. The pontiff said:

“We may have some difficulty in calling her ‘Saint’ Teresa, her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her “Mother”. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes of poverty they created.”

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How Does One Become a Saint in the Catholic Church?


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Catholic Saints

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In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, or Anglican Church, Canonization is the act by which a person who has died is declared a saint. After that, their name is included in the canon – a list of recognized saints.

During the first millennium of the Church’s life, the first people honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s Canon of the Mass and since 1962, that of Saint Joseph was included.

Next, in the absence of a centralized canonization process, the local Church recognized holy men and women who demonstrated great virtue during their lifetime without any formal process or investigations into their personal life or any miracles attributed to their intercession.

Later on, different processes and procedures for canonization were developed such as those used today in Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. In both Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, the act of canonization is governed by the Holy See and a person is declared a saint at the conclusion of a long process that requires substantial proof of their worthiness to be recognized as a saint by their exemplary and holy way of living on this earth.

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Devil’s advocate and God’s advocate 

In 1587, during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, the office of the Devil’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Diaboli) also known as the Promoter of Faith, was established. This canon lawyer appointed by the Church authorities argued against the canonization of a candidate by taking a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, uncovering any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence such as fraudulent miracles attributed to the candidate, etc.

The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus  Dei) also known as the Promoter of the Cause, whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.

Pope Paul VI beatified a total of 38 individuals during his pontificate and canonized 84 saints in 21 causes.

The work of simplification of canonization initiated by Pope Paul VI continued with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, and the implementation of the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 7, 1983, at the diocesan level.

Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil’s advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favour of canonization. John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for sainthood from three to two, one for the first stage — beatification — and one more for canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial.

In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.

This reform by Pope John Paul II changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.

In cases of controversy, the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.

Candidates go through the following steps on their way to being declared saints.

Servant of God“: The process leading to canonization begins at the diocesan level. Responding to a petition by members of the faithful, a bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual.  This investigation usually opens no sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated.

Venerable/Heroic in Virtue“: After gathering sufficient information, the congregation will recommend to the pope to proclaim that the Servant of God exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable”.

A Venerable has as yet no feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honour. Prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by the venerable’s intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person can be canonized.

Blessed“: Beatification is a statement by the church that it is “worthy of belief” that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a “martyr” or a “confessor”.

For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration or a certification that the venerable met death voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.

All non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by the manner they lived their lives. To be named “Blessed” (abbreviated “Bl.”) or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata a miracle has to tale place as a sign that God performed the miracle in response to the venerable’s intercession. Today, these miracles are mostly miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle”.

A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed’s home diocese, to certain locations associated with the blessed and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed’s religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honour of a Blessed.

Saint“: Canonization is a statement by the church that the person enjoys the Beatific Vision. To be canonized a saint, an additional miracle after granting beatification must have been performed through the blessed’s intercession.

The saint (contracted “St” or “S.”) is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Parish churches may be built in the saint’s honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.

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“It is folly for a man to pray to the gods…” – Epicurus


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Rogue pastors and patients in hospitals

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Why don’t pastors perform “healing” in hospitals?

An excellent question!

The answer is that all these faith healers are just preying humbugs who are just keen on swindling innocent people who place their faith in an unseen god sketched out by these conscienceless rogues.

This act of placing one’s trust in God or god by the gullible is not a recent phenomenon. Even before the time of Jesus Christ people prayed to gods.

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Epicurus, ancient Greek philosopher
Epicurus, ancient Greek philosopher

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The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism wisely said:

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

Also, keep in mind what Jesus said (Mathew 6:5-8):

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”


Myself 

 By T.V. Antony Raj

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Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum, New York City)
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum, New York City)

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Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward, he was hungry.

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

Jesus said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’

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Here, the tempter tries to utilize the cravings of the flesh, namely hunger as Jesus was starving.

For the Roman Catholics, the definition of Lent varies according to different documents.

The official document on the Lenten season, Paschales Solemnitatis, says: “the first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance” – representing a period of 40 days.

The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar say: “The forty days of Lent run from Ash Wednesday up to but excluding the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive“, representing a period of 44 days.

Both the above-mentioned sources agree that Lent ends on the evening of Holy Thursday, before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Historically, the season of Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days when we count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the “Time of Lent”, but to reconcile this with the phrase “forty days of fasting“, they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence. It would be more accurate if we say “forty days fast within Lent.

In the traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality, a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance. The Catholic Church has specified certain forms of penance to ensure that the Catholic will do something as required by divine law while making it easy for them to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics.

Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Canon 1252: All who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence. All adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.

Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Thus, the Church has two forms of official penitential practices – three if the Eucharistic fast before Communion is included.

Abstinence

The law of abstinence requires all Catholics who are 14 years old and older to be bound by the law of abstinence until death to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays that are not Solemnities in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday.

Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl and moral theologians have traditionally forbidden the consumption of soups or gravies made from them.

Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal-derived products such as gelatin, butter, cheese, and eggs that do not have any taste of meat.

When solemnities, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, All Saints etc. fall on a Friday, Catholics do not abstain or fast.

During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory, and is considered a sin not to observe this discipline without a serious reason such as physical labor, pregnancy, sickness etc.

Fasting

The practice of fasting before Easter developed gradually, and with considerable diversity of practice regarding duration. In the latter part of the second century, there were differing opinions not only regarding the manner of the paschal fast, but also the proper time for keeping Easter.

In 331, St. Athanasius urged his flock to follow a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Week.

In 339, after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, St. Athanasius wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance of fasting upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, “to the end that while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days”.

During the time of Gregory the Great (590–604), there were apparently at Rome six weeks of six days each, making thirty-six fast days in all. St. Gregory describes the thirty-six fast as the spiritual tithing of the year, since thirty-six days being approximately the tenth part of three hundred and sixty-five. At a later date the wish to realize the exact number of forty days led to the practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday.

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this reduction in intake of food as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity.

Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by consuming drinks which could be considered food.

People excused from fast or abstinence

Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Aside from these minimum penitential requirements, Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. For example, a person could multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives).

Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat.

The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church’s law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys such as chocolates, candy, soft drinks, smoking, the cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the discretion of the individual.

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I Wish You “A Happy New Year!”


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Happy New Year 2014

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The earlier Julian calendar, as well as the modern Gregorian calendar, have January 1 as the first day of the year.

At present, most countries use the Gregorian calendar as their de facto calendar and observe January 1 as the New Year’s Day which is probably the most celebrated public holiday in the world. As the new year starts at the stroke of midnight in each time zone, people invariably greet the New Year’s Day it with fireworks. Globally, New Years’ Day traditions include making new resolutions and meeting the members of one’s family and friends.

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The Roman god Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past (Source: storify.com)
The Roman god Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past (Source: storify.com)

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In pre-Christian Rome, the Julian calendar dedicates the first day of the year to Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. The Romans venerated Janus as the god of gates, doors, doorways, passages and beginnings, and named the first month of the year in his honour. This implies that the New Year’s Day celebrations follow pagan traditions.

Since 45 BC, the Roman Empire used the Julian calendar and had January 1 as the first day of the year. The Gregorian calendar created in 1582 also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar was a refined version of the Julian calendar and it too had January 1 as the first day of the year.

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Detail of Circumcision of Jesus Christ by Pellegrino da San Daniele (Photograph: Elio Ciol/Corbis)
Detail of Circumcision of Jesus Christ by Pellegrino da San Daniele (Photograph: Elio Ciol/Corbis)

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In the Gregorian calendar of Christendom, the New Year’s Day liturgically marked the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. The Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church still observe the day as such.

The circumcision of Jesus is an event from the life of Jesus. Verse 2:21 in the Gospel of Luke states:

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The Jewish law holds that all males have to undergo circumcision eight days after birth during a Brit milah ceremony, at which they are also given their name. So, according to Jewish tradition, Jesus born on December 25 underwent circumcision on the eighth day of his life on January 1 and named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before Mary conceived him. Hence, liturgically January 1, the New Year’s Day, marked the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus in the Gregorian calendar of Christendom.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the event on January 1 as the Feast of the Circumcision. Likewise, the Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus on January 1.

Roman Catholics for long celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 1. Now, the Roman Catholic Church considers New Year’s Day as a Holy Day of Obligation and celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on this day.

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“End of the Beginning” by David Phelps


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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“Forget what you have heard about Jesus if it doesn’t begin and end with love.” – Davis Phelps

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David Phelps
David Phelps

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David Norris Phelps, an American Christian music vocalist, songwriter and vocal arranger is best known for singing tenor in the Gaither Vocal Band (GVB), an American southern gospel vocal group, named after its founder and leader Bill Gaither.

The GVB emerged in the early 1980s recording contemporary Christian music. Later it became known for its southern gospel. Bill Gaither leads the group with passion and his genuine desire to bring meaning to the music which the group sings.

The lineup of the GVB changes often. Besides Bill Gaither, singers with the longest tenure in the band include  Michael English (1985–94, 2009–13), Mark Lowry (1988–2001, 2009–13), Guy Penrod (1995–2008), David Phelps (1997-2004, 2009-present) and Wes Hampton (2005-present).

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Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles, David Phelps, Bill Gaither, and Wes Hampton (Source: gaither.com)
Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles, David Phelps, Bill Gaither, and Wes Hampton (Source: gaither.com)

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As of February 2014, the lineup consists of Bill Gaither, David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, and Todd Suttles.

All the members of GVB are all talented artists and are authentic men of faith. Known worldwide for their vocal power, innovative harmonies, they are instruments of God to carry the message of hope, grace and redemption.

Today, with over 30 years of history, the GVB, has an award-winning legacy of excellence for the harmony of those male voices: vocals, baritone, bass, and tenor.

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David Phelps (Source: david-phelps.blogspot.in)
David Phelps (Source: david-phelps.blogspot.in)

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David Phelps started his professional career at GVB in 1996. He remained at GVB as a tenor for eight years from 1996 to 2004. In 2004, he left the group to realize the biggest dream of his life: to develop his solo career. In early 2009, after recording seven albums, he returned to the GVB.

In 2002, Gaither Homecoming Video featured David Phelps in God Bless America, which featured his solo “End of the Beginning“.

A top reviewer declared: “You can’t go wrong with a Phelps piece!!

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End Of The Beginning
Words & music by David Phelps

I was taking a trip on a plane the other day, just wishin’ that I could get out.
When the man next to me saw the book in my hand and asked me what it was about.
So I settled back in my seat. “A best-seller,” I said, “a hist’ry and a myst’ry in one.”
Then I opened up the book and began to read from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…

He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.

He walked on the water, healed The lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him.
And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”

“That’s not a new book, that’s a Bible,” he said, “And I’ve heard it all before.
I’ve tried religion, it’s shame and guilt, and I don’t need it anymore.
It’s superstation, made-up tales, just to help the weak to survive.”
“Let me read it again,” I said, “But listen closely. This is gonna change your life.”

“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem.
Angels gathered ’round Him underneath the star singing praises to the great I AM.

He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see again.
And for the first time here on earth we learned that God could be a friend.
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, the angry crowd chose Him. And then He walked down the road and died on the cross and that was the end…of the beginning.”

“The end of the beginning?” he said with a smile. “What more
could there be? He’s dead. You said they hung Him, put nails in
His hands and a crown of thorns on His head.” I said, “I’ll read it
again, but this time there’s more.

And I believe that this is true: His death wasn’t the end but the beginning of life that’s completed in you.
Don’t you see, He did all this for you…”

“He was born of a virgin one holy night in the little town of Bethlehem. All the angels singing praises to the great I AM.
He walked on the water, healed the lame, and made the blind to see.
And for the first time here on earth, did you know that God could be a friend?
And though He never, ever did a single thing wrong, He was the one the crowd chose.
And then He walked and He died, but three days later, three days later, three days later…
He rose! Three days later He rose!

You see, He came, He lived, and He died, but that was the end of the beginning.

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The Iberian Peninsula: Part 1 – Conquest by the Muslims


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Greek geographers used the ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) to refer to the land mass known today as the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal). Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC), an early Greek historian  was the first to use this term during the time of the first Persian invasion of Greece which began in 492 BC.

In Europe, after the Scandinavian and Balkan peninsulas, Iberia is the third-largest peninsula, located in the southwest corner of Europe.

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Hispania in 418 AD
Hispania in 418 AD

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Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. The modern name España derives from Hispania.

Roderic, the last king of the Goths

In 711, an army of Muslim Moors composed of North African Berber soldiers with some Arabs, under Tariq ibn-Ziyad and other Muslim generals, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed at Gibraltar. The Islamic army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania ruled by King Roderic, known in the legends as “the last king of the Goths“.

According to the Chronicle of 754, a Latin-language history in 95 sections composed in 754 in a part of Spain under Arab occupation, Roderic immediately upon securing his throne gathered a force to oppose the Moors raiding in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

Since there were just a few freemen among the Goths, Roderic gathered together an army of unwilling slave conscripts. He made several expeditions against the invaders led by the Berber general Tariq ibn-Ziyad.

The early modern historian al-Maqqari, in his “The Breath of Perfume,” places the following long sermon to the troops in Tariq ibn-Ziyad’s mouth before  the Battle of Guadalete:

Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but you, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy.

If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage. Put far from you the disgrace from which you flee in dreams and attack this monarch who has left his strongly fortified city to meet you. Here is a splendid opportunity to defeat him, if you will consent to expose yourselves freely to death.

Do not believe that I desire to incite you to face dangers which I shall refuse to share with you. During the attack, I myself will be in the fore, where the chance of life is always least. Remember that if you suffer a few moments in patience, you will afterward enjoy supreme delight. Do not imagine that your fate can be separated from mine, and rest assured that if you fall, I shall perish with you, or avenge you.

You have heard that in this country, there are a large number of ravishingly beautiful Greek maidens, their graceful forms are draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold, and they live in the palaces of royal kings.

The Commander of True Believers, Alwalid, son of Abdalmelik, has chosen you for this attack from among all his Arab warriors; and he promises that you shall become his comrades and shall hold the rank of kings in this country. Such is his confidence in your intrepidity. The one fruit which he desires to obtain from your bravery is that the word of God shall be exalted in this country and that the true religion shall be established here. The spoils will belong to yourselves.

Remember that I place myself in the front of this glorious charge which I exhort you to make. At the moment when the two armies meet hand to hand, you will see me, never doubt it, seeking out this Roderick, tyrant of his people, challenging him to combat, if God is willing. If I perish after this, I will have had at least the satisfaction of delivering you, and you will easily find among you an experienced hero, to whom you can confidently give the task of directing you. But should I fall before I reach to Roderick, redouble your ardor, force yourselves to the attack and achieve the conquest of this country, in depriving him of life. With him dead, his soldiers will no longer defy you.

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The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick's stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). It is believed that Roderick and much of the Visigothic nobility was killed in the battle and aftermath. (Source: histclo.com)
The weakness of the Visigothic kingdom was displayed in Roderick’s stunning defeat at Guadalete / Río Barbate, (July 19, 711). (Source: histclo.com)

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On July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad defeated Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete / Río Barbate. Roderic and much of the Visigothic nobility were killed in the battle and aftermath.

Facing no further strong resistance, Tariq swept north toward Toledo, the Visigothic capital.

Al-ʾAndalūs, the Islamic Iberia

In an eight-year campaign, the Moors brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control. In 719, they crossed the Pyrenees and took control of Septimania, the last province of the Visigothic kingdom. In 721, the Moors tried to conquer Aquitaine from their stronghold of Narbonne, but suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Toulouse.

At no point did the invading Islamic armies exceed 60,000 men.

The invading Moors gave the Arabic name Al-ʾAndalūs (الإندلس) to the region under their control, maybe to mean “Land of the Vandals“. The Islamic rule lasted 300 years in much of the Iberian Peninsula and 781 years in Granada.

From their stronghold of Narbonne, the Moors launched raids into the Duchy of Aquitaine, a fiefdom in western, central and southern areas of present-day France to the south of the Loire River.

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Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
Al_Andalus & Christian Kingdoms (Source: en.wikipedia.org)

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After establishing a local Emirate, Caliph Al-Walid I, ruler of the Umayyad caliphate, recalled many of the successful Muslim commanders to Damascus including Tariq ibn Ziyad, the first governor of the newly conquered province of Al-Andalus. Musa bin Nusair, his former superior replaced him.

Governor Musa’s son, Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, married Egilona, Roderic’s widow. He established his regional government in Seville. Under the influence of his wife, Egilona, he wanted to convert to Christianity. He was then accused of planning a secessionist rebellion, and Caliph Al-Walid I ordered his assassination.

By the year 1100, local Iberian converts to Islam, the so-called Muladi formed the majority of the Iberian population. The term ‘Moor’ was the generic term used to refer to the Islamists that composed the initial Arabs and Berbers and the converted Muladi. The Iberian Peninsula transformed from a Romance-speaking Christian land into an Arabic-speaking Muslim land. However, pockets of Arabic and Romance-speaking Christians called Mozarabs and a large minority of Arabic-speaking Jews survived throughout Al-ʾAndalūs.

In the chronicles and documents of the High Middle Ages the Christians used the terms Spania, España or Espanha derived from Hispania in reference to Muslim controlled areas. King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104–1134) says in his documents when in 1126 he made an expedition to Málaga he “went to the lands of España.

During the Middle Ages, the Iberian peninsula housed many small states, including Castile, Aragon, Navarre, León and Portugal.

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The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.
The five kingdoms of Iberia in 1360.

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Towards the end of the 12th century, the whole Muslim and Christian Iberian Peninsula became known as “Spain” (España, Espanya or Espanha). The term “the Five Kingdoms of Spain” referred to the Mussulman Kingdom of Granada and the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Portugal and Navarre.

The Muslim caliphs competed with each other in the patronage of the arts. From the 8th to the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula incorporated into the Islamic world became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Cordoba. It reached its height under the rule of Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.

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Next → Part 2 – The Reconquista

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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 2 – Leif Erikson


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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 Bjarni Herjólfsson

The “Saga of the Greenlanders” (“Grænlendinga saga” in modern Icelandic tells that in the summer of 986, Bjarni Herjólfsson, a Norse explorer sailed to Iceland as usual, to visit his parents. Since his father had migrated to Greenland with Erik the Red, Bjarni with his crew set off to find him.

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Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)
Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)

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In the 10th century, they had no map or devices such as compasses to guide them. Neither Bjarni nor any of his crew members had been to Greenland before. A storm blew them off course. Bjarni and his crew saw a piece of land covered with trees and mountains. The land looked hospitable. They were not sure whether it was Greenland. Although his crew begged him to, Bjarni refused to stop and explore the new lands. He was much eager to reach Greenland to see his parents.

So, Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to have made landfall there and see North America beyond Greenland.

After regaining his course, and arriving in Greenland, Bjarni reported seeing the low-lying hills covered with forests some distance farther to the west. But at the time no one seems to have shown interest. Later, word spread of the lands to the west, which Bjarni Herjólfsson had seen.

As they lacked timber, Greenlanders took a special interest in what Bjarni described. They became allured by the wooded coastline Bjarni had seen. It created a great intrigue throughout the Nordic Empire. Though Bjarni was celebrated by the Greenlanders, King Eric chided him for not exploring that land mass.

 Leif Erikson

In 999, Leif Erikson, the son of Greenland leader Erik Thorvaldsson (Old Norse: Eiríkr Þorvaldsson), also known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr hinn rauði), travelled from Greenland to Norway.

Leif Erikson ((Source - pixgood.com)
Leif Erikson ((Source – pixgood.com)

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Blown off course to the Hebrides and staying there for much of the summer with his crew, Leif arrived in Norway. He became a hirdman of King Olaf Tryggvason. He converted to Christianity from Norse paganism and took on the mission of introducing the new religion to Greenland.

Leif Erikson, having heard the story of Bjarni Herjólfsson, approached Bjarni and purchased the ship he had used for his voyage.

The Saga of Erik the Red says Leif Erikson hired a crew of 35 men. He planned to take his father, Erik the Red along with him in his expedition, however, Erik fell off his horse on the way to the ship, and this was taken as a bad omen and stayed at home. Leif with his crew set out towards the land Bjarni had described. He retraced Bjarni’s route in reverse.

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Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland
Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland

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They first went up the West Coast of Greenland and then crossed the Davis Strait and landed first in a rocky and desolate place which he named Helluland (“the land of the flat stones”), possibly Baffin Island.

Then, they went down south and found a forest area which amazed them because there were no trees in Greenland. They named the region Markland (“Wood Land”), possibly Labrador coast.

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The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)
The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)

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After two more days at sea, they landed in a luscious place. Relative to Greenland, the weather was mild. Salmon was aplenty in the streams. They named the region Vinland (“land of pastures”).

During one of these explorations, they found the land was full of vines and grapes. Leif and his crew built a small settlement, which later visitors from Greenland called Leifsbúðir (Leif’s Booths).

The earliest record of the name “Winland” is in chapter 39 of Adam of Bremen’s “Descriptio insularum Aquilonis” (“Description of the Northern Islands”) written c. 1075. Adam implies that the name contains Old Norse “vín” (Latin “vinum” meaning “wine”):

Praeterea unam adhuc insulam recitavit a multis in eo repertam occeano, quae dicitur Winland, eo quod ibi vites sponte nascantur, vinum optimum ferentes.

“In addition, the island discovered by many in one of the seas, which is called Winland, from the fact that the spontaneous growth of grapevines, produced the best wine.”

This etymology retained in the 13th-century Saga of the Greenlanders, provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland, and named from the vínber, i.e. “wine berry,” a term for grapes or currants (black or red), found there.

Archaeological evidences suggest that Vinland may have been the areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the world’s largest estuary, and the outlet of the North American Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean.

Leif Erikson formed two groups: one to remain at the camp, and the other to explore the lands.

After having spent the winter in Vinland, Leif Erikson returned to the family estate of Brattahlíð in Greenland in the spring of 1000 with a cargo of grapes and timber.

In Greenland, he started preaching Christianity. His father, Erik Thorvaldsson reacted with anger to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion –  Norse paganism.

Replica of Tjodhilde's Church, was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

Replica of Tjodhilde’s Church that was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

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His mother became a Christian and built a church called Thorhild’s Church (actually a small chapel) in Brattahlið.

At odds with both wife and eldest son Leif, Erik attempted a sail to Leif’s Vinland with his youngest son Thorstein. They failed to reach Newfoundland, but the doughty Eric said, “We were more cheerful when we put out of the fjord in the summer; but at least we are still alive, and it might have been worse.”

Erik the Red is last mentioned in the sagas in 1005.

Leif Erickson is last mentioned alive in 1019. By 1025, he installed one of his sons, Thorkell as the chieftain of Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr).

None of the sagas mentions Leif Erickson’s death. He must have died in Greenland. Nothing further is known about his family beyond the succession of Thorkell as chieftain.

In the early 1960s, Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse settlement located at the northern tip of Newfoundland. They suggested that this site, known as L’Anse aux Meadows, is Leif’s settlement of Leifsbúðir, the first known attempt at founding a settlement by Europeans on the mainland of the Americas.

Leif Erikson had opened the way to America. Vikings ships plied from Greenland to these “new lands” (Newfoundland) during the following years.

According to Brattahlíð lore, Thorvaldur, the brother of Leif Erikson set sail to further explore Vinland. The natives of Vinland, called Skrælings (“stunted”) by the Norse because of their small size, attacked Thorvaldur and his crew. Thorvaldur received a fatal wound and his men buried him in Vinland and returned to Greenland.

According to the “Saga of the Greenlanders,” Leif Erikson’s younger brother Thorstein set sail for Vinland along with his wife Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir) to retrieve his brother Thorvaldur’s body. Losing their way at sea they had to return. At the close of the first week of winter, they landed at Lysufiord, where Thorstein fell ill and died.

After her husband’s death, Gudrid returned to Brattahlíð. She married a merchant named Thorfinn Karlsefni, “a man of good family and good means” and “a merchant of good repute.” After their marriage, at Gudrid’s insistence, the couple set sail to Vinland with a group of sixty men, five women, and various livestock in an attempt to settle down in the camp that Leif Erickson had built some years earlier. They spent three years in Vinland.

In Vínland, Gudrid bore a son, the first European reported to be born in the Western Hemisphere. They named him Snorri Thorfinnsson,

Harassed by the natives, Thorfinn and Gudrid returned with their son to Greenland, where Thorfinn Karlsefni died.

After that, the hostile indigenous people of Vinland thwarted the many attempts by settlers from Greenland and Iceland to found a colony there. The stories of the various Viking expeditions survived in the collective memory of the descendants of those who returned by the 13th century from the North American coast to settle once again in Greenland and Iceland.

The Norse settlements in coastal North America were small. They did not develop into permanent colonies. While voyages, such as to collect timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of enduring Norse settlements on mainland North America.

Leif Erikson has the honor of being the first European to open the way to America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

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Next → Part 3 – America Honors Leif Erikson

← Previous: Part 1-  Erik the Red

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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 1 – Erik the Red


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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For eons, the Americas were a pristine no man’s land.  Around 12,000 BC, humans first stepped onto the North American continent. But who were they?

The Clovis people
 Beringia Land Bridge. This animation illustrates the flooding of the Bering Land Bridge over the last 18,000. (Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Beringia Land Bridge. This animation illustrates the flooding of the Bering Land Bridge over the last 18,000. (Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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Approximately 14,000 years ago, humans walked across the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska. They were the Clovis people.

The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. This culture appears at the end of the last glacial period,  roughly  around 13,200.

The Clovis people spent the next few thousand years migrating from Alaska to the south and east across North America, and then into South America.

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Clovis points from the Rummells-Maske Site, 13CD15, Cedar County, Iowa, These are from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection.
Clovis points from the Rummells-Maske Site, 13CD15, Cedar County, Iowa, These are from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection.

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The manufacture of “Clovis points” and distinctive bone and ivory tools characterize the culture of the Clovis people. They are the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas: the Folsom tradition, Gainey, Suwannee-Simpson, Plainview-Goshen, Cumberland, and Redstone.

At the same time as the Clovis people began leaving behind tools, human bones and other evidence of their presence in the northwest, humans were leaving similar items along the New England coastline in the Northeastern United States. It puzzled the historians. They wondered how the Clovis people could trek from both Alaska and New England at the same time?

The answer – two different cultures discovered America: one crossing the frozen Bering Strait, on foot; and the other traveling from Europe to America’s east coast by boat.

Gunnbjørn Ulfsson

Gunnbjørn Ulfsson (circa 10th century), also known as Gunnbjørn Ulf-Krakuson, a Norwegian, was the first European to sight North America. Blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland, GunnbjørnUlfsson and his crew sighted islands which he called “Gunnbjarnarsker”  (Gunnbjörn’s Skerries) lying close off the coast of Greenland. They did not land on any of those islands. However, Gunnbjørn reported this find.

The exact date of this event is not recorded in the Nordic sagas. Various sources cite dates ranging from 876 to 932, but these must remain little more than guesses, but the early 10th century is more likely than earlier.

Around 978, Snaebjörn Galti (c. 910 – 978) made the first purposeful visit to Gunnbjørn’s islands. According to records from the time, this first Norse attempt to colonize Greenland ended in disaster.

Historians consider Eric the Red, the Viking rover, who soon followed Galti’s attempt, as the first permanent European settler in Greenland.

Eric the Red

According to medieval and Icelandic sagas Erik Thorvaldsson (Eiríkr Þorvaldsson) was born in the Jaeren district of Rogaland in Norway around 950.

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Erik the Red, the fierce red-haired Viking discovered Greenland about AD 982. (Source: lookandlearn.com)
Erik the Red, the fierce red-haired Viking discovered Greenland about AD 982. (Source: lookandlearn.com)

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He is best known as Erik the Red (Eiríkr hinn rauði). The appellation “the Red” most likely refers to the color of his hair and beard and perhaps also because of his fiery temper.

Erik’s father Thorvald Asvaldsson (Þorvald Ásvaldsson) was banished from Norway for manslaughter. Thorvald sailed West from Norway with his family and settled in Hornstrandir in northwestern Iceland, 175 miles away from Greenland.

Erik married Thorhild (Thjóðhildr), daughter of Jorund Atlisson, and as part of her dowry received land at Eriksstadir in Haukadal where he built a farm.

Around the year 980, the thralls (serfs or slaves) of Erik caused a landslide on the neighboring farm belonging to Valthjof. The landslide buried the home of Valthjof along with him and his family. Eyiolf the Foul, a kinsman of Valthjof in turn killed the thralls. Eric retaliated by killing Eyjolf and Holmgang-Hrafn. Eyjolf’s kinsmen demanded the banishment of Erik from Haukadal.

The Vikings cherished the ornamental beams which were symbols of Viking authority and had religious, mystical, and political significance known as the setstokkr. Erik had inherited his setstokkr which his father had brought with him from Norway. After giving this setstokkr to his friend Thorgest (Þórgestr) to look after, Erik and Thorhild moved to the isle of Öxney off the western Icelandic coast.

After building his new house, Erik went back to Haukadal to get his setstokkr. Thorgest refused to give them back. An infuriated Erik went to Breidabolstad and stole Thorgest’s own setstokkr instead.

Thorgest gave chase. Erik prepared an ambush. In the ensuing skirmish, Erik slew both sons of Thorgest and a few other men.

Thorgest approached the court.

In 981, the thing (Þing), assembly of Thorness resolved the dispute. Erik was banished from both Iceland and Norway, for three years.

Colonizing Greenland

Erik the Red had heard about the “Greater Ireland” settlements in Greenland, a small, unprotected Irish settlement in Greenland.

In the spring of 981 he traveled westward in his 100-foot-long ship. It was not a romantic voyage with the urge to discover new lands. It was rather a typical Viking voyage of plunder.

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An illustration by Carl Rasmussen of Erik the Red on a Viking longboat as he and his men from Norway first land on what became Greenland in 982 AD (MansellGetty Images)
An illustration by Carl Rasmussen of Erik the Red on a Viking longboat as he and his men from Norway first land on what became Greenland in 982 AD (MansellGetty Images)

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Erik’s party landed near Julianehåb. They arrived too late to reap the reward, for the Irish settlers had already left and mere arctic desolation greeted them.

They spent the first winter on the island of Eiriksey. In spring, he proceeded to Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr). They spent the second winter in Eiriksholmar, close to Hvarfsgnipa.

According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Erik spent his three years of exile exploring this land. In the last summer, they explored as far north as Snaefell and into Hrafnsfjord. They even crossed the Davis Strait and reached Baffin Island, then abundant with game.

Erik was much impressed with the resources he found in the land. He was convinced that the new land was better adapted than Iceland for raising stock.

In 985, Erik returned to Iceland after the expiry of his exile period. He wanted to found a colony in the new land he had found. He knew that the success of any settlement in the new land would need the support of as many people as possible.

Erik had great powers of persuasion. He was always boasting and praising the new land he had returned from. To lure potential settlers, Erik on purpose called the land “Greenland” which was a more appealing name than “Iceland”. Many Vikings, especially those living on impoverished lands in Iceland and those that had been victims of a recent famine became convinced that Greenland held great opportunity.

The following year Erik set out from Iceland leading a fleet of 25 ships on course for Greenland. On board were around 500 men and women, various livestock, provisions and gear required to found the settlement in Greenland.

Of the 25 ships only 14 made it to the eastern shore of Greenland – of the other 11, some sank while others turned back to Iceland.

Each sea-captain claimed a fjord to which he gave his name.

Erik the Red and his wife Thorhild took the best fjord. They called it Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr). They built the farm Brattahlið near its head (in present-day Qassiarsuk). Here, Erik lived like a Jarl (lord) with his wife and four children: Leif Erikson, Thorvald (Þorvaldr) Eiriksson, Thorstein (Þorsteinn) Eiriksson, and an illegitimate daughter, Freydis Eiríkssdóttir.

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A farm house in Greenland (Source: bestof.fjordnorway.com)
A farm-house in Greenland (Source: bestof.fjordnorway.com)

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Along one side of Eriksfjord was much good pasture. The farm Brattahlið lay on one of the most fertile plains in Greenland. Another large green valley lay behind it.

Erik the Red held the title of the paramount chieftain of Greenland and became both much respected, and wealthy.

Both the Eastern Settlement (the area around present-day Qaqortoq, formerly Julianehåb) and the Western Settlement (around Nuuk or Godthåb, the capital and largest city of Greenland) were presumably established soon.

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The Eastern Settlement, Greenland (Source: archaeology.about.com)
The Eastern Settlement, Greenland (Source: archaeology.about.com)

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The Eastern Settlement was about 300 miles south of the Western Settlement. Located near the mouth of Eiriksfjord in the area of Qaqortog, the Eastern Settlement had about 200 farmsteads and supporting facilities.

During the summers, when the weather favored travel, each fjord-based settlement would send an army of men to hunt in Iss Vagr above the Arctic Circle. They hunted  food and other valuable commodities such as seals, Walrus tusks and meat from beached whales. In these expeditions, they first met the Inuit people or Skræling.

The settlement flourished, growing to 5000 inhabitants spread over a considerable area along Eriksfjord and neighboring fjords. Groups of people escaping overcrowding in Iceland migrated to Greenland.

In 1002, a group of immigrants brought with it an epidemic that ravaged the colony, killing many of its leading citizens, including Erik the Red.

The Norse colony in Greenland lasted for almost 500 years.

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Next → Part 2 – Leif Erikson

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