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 White-Christ

Aleksandr Busygin

Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7 (2011)

Thanks to nineteenth-century Scandinavian Romantics and twentieth century pulp fiction, it is well known that Vikings were in the habit of calling the God of the Christians Hvíta-Kristr ‘White-Christ’. The grammatical pattern of this curious-sounding name evokes the language of Eddic poetry (Kuhn 1960–61, 247), but also some other Christian catch words of the early period such as Santa-Mikkel ‘Saint Michael’, hvítaváðir ‘white robes’ (of baptism), or kykvasettr ‘one buried alive’ (= saint resting in a shrine). It must have dropped out of active use by the thirteenth century at the latest: medieval sagas occasionally employ it, but only in the context of stories about the Norwegian missionary kings Óláfr Tryggvason and Óláfr the Saint and their contemporaries and only in the direct speech of the characters.1 Its obscurity to medieval Norse speakers is played on in the nonchalant phrase of a convert in the Flateyjarbók version of Óláfs saga helga: ‘And if I am to believe in some god, why should it be worse for me to believe in White-Christ than some other Christ?’ (Guðbrandur Vigfusson and Unger 1860–68, II, 337). One may wonder whether Vikings themselves knew much better what the adding of ‘White’ to the name of Christ was meant to signify.

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