In the History Channel’s new series on the Vikings there is an episode where the Vikings raid the Island of Lindisfarne, a small island off of England’s Northumbrian coast. The raid is thought to be the beginning of Viking adventures on England, Scotland, Ireland, France and just about everywhere else their longships could carry them.
In the episode the Viking leader, Ragnar, takes prisoner a Saxon monk by the name of Athelstan. Athelstan speaks the language of the northmen and that’s what probably saves his life. As the Vikings loot the monastery of its treasures (crosses, chalices, candle holders, etc, made from precious metals) Athelstan hides a book under his robes. Ragnar catches him and asks quizzically why the monk would save a book when saving a treasure would make more sense.
Athelstan replies to the effect that the book, is the Book of John from the Bible and it is indeed a treasure worth far more than precious metals.
It’s a compelling scene. Ragnar decides to keep Athelstan alive for his own purposes and makes him a slave, although at this point in the series they seem to have more than a slave\master relationship as Ragnar trusts Athelstan with the care of his family when Ragnar goes on another raid to Northumbria.
This link goes to an excellent link from the BBC that discusses the “Lindisfarne Gospels” and how they were painstakingly created and preserved by the Anglo-Saxon monks over the course of many years.
Few people could read during Europe’s Dark Ages (500-1000 AD roughly) so the work of the monks was vital in passing down the Gospel of Jesus Christ and preserving it in a wonderful work of art that survived devastating Viking raids.
The scene in the History Channel’s series, Vikings, with Ragnar and Athelstan is not far-fetched and Christians everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to those monks who labored in the preservation of the Bible, something we tend to take for granted now.