Around the year 965, King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark and his Viking warriors were discussing which god was most powerful. Some favored mighty Thor, who defeated giant trolls with ease and caused lightning by throwing his hammer. Others picked Odin the Wise on his eight-legged horse, leading a horde of all dead warriors who ever perished in battle. One mentioned mischievous Loki, who tricked the other gods to serve his evil purposes.

But what about this new god, Hvíta Kristr, White Christ, who was said to rule the hosts of heaven?

A foreign priest named Poppo at this meeting was a servant of Hvíta Kristr. The Viking warriors called upon him to prove the power of his god.

At the forge of the smith, so the story goes, Poppo took a red-hot iron and held it in his hand. When he set it down, the king looked at his hands. There was not the slightest sign of injury.

That was enough for King Harald Bluetooth. He was baptized without delay and ordered all his subjects to follow his example.

Even if it did take a miracle to formally convert King Harald's realm to Christianity, the process did not begin that instant. For two centuries a variety of forces had been at work to bring the Christian faith to Denmark, but none so important as the missionary presence.

The first missionary to Denmark was Willibrord, an Irish monk known more for his work in Friesland than in Scandinavia. In his efforts to evangelize Friesland (now parts of the Netherlands and Germany), he visited Denmark briefly in the early 700s, returning with 30 Danish boys to educate as Christians.

But as often happened in Denmark's turbulent history, missionary work was interrupted by war. In 772 the great Frankish emperor Charlemagne launched a crusade into Saxony, and his troops ...

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