The Church of the Divine Earth

Christianity or Fire and Sword


Otto (of Bamburg) found Pomerania no easy field to till. He toured its booming towns but his preaching fell on deaf ears. At Szczecin, for instance, he spent nine weeks but his preaching was greeted with hails of stones. His hand was wounded and his pastoral staff was damaged. The sequel is instructive. Otto reported back to Duke Boseslas of Poland, who threatened the people of Szczecin with reprisals unless they accepted Christianity; which, not surprisingly, they decided, after debate, to do. Fortified by the threat of fire and sword, Otto (of Bamburg) baptized many converts in Pomerania: 22,165, to be precise, according to his biographer. The writer also tells us of other methods employed by the bishop of Bamburg to hasten conversion. “He refreshed poor converts and those of modest means with copious measures of food and drink, and also gave them clothes in no small quantity. However to the sons of the noble and powerful he gave rings and sword belts, sandals, cloth of gold and other precious gifts.” It is not quite fair to say that Otto bribed the Pomeranians into Christianity. But he certainly knew how to get on in a society to which reciprocal gift-exchange was of the utmost importance – like many of his missionary precursors, such as Patrick and Wilfrid. Temples and idols were destroyed. Churches were built. The triple silver-plated head of the image of the god Triglaus was sent off to the pope as a token of victory over paganism. Otto’s instructions to his converts have survived; they enjoined Sabbath observance, infant baptism with godparents, canonical marriages, confessions, burial in Christian cemeteries according to Christian rites: familiar themes. Pomeranian society was to be reshaped by the Poles as surely as Saxon society had been reshaped by the Franks in the eighth and ninth centuries.

The Barbarian Conversion, From Paganism to Christianity
Richard Fletcher
Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1998