Archbishop of Hamberg
Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, 865
Our Church’s name, St. Ansgar, comes from our Danish roots. Ansgar was the missionary who brought the Christian message to Scandinavia. He began his work with a school as depicted in our St. Ansgar window in the Church and shown here on the left. Ansgar began his labours in the year 826, when the emperor of the Franks asked him to open a mission in southern Denmark. Even with the backing of the local king, his successes were modest. Nevertheless, after a couple of years in Denmark, he decided to cross the Baltic and launch a mission among the Swedes. When he returned he found that the Pope had appointed him archbishop of Hamburg, with jurisdiction over all the missions in Scandinavia.
From the moment of his appointment until his death over thirty years later, Ansgar experienced very little except disappointment and frustration. Unable to find enough staff, his mission to Sweden soon withered. A rebellion in Denmark overthrew the king who had supported him, and the rebels quickly smothered the young Danish church. In the year 845 Hamburg itself was burned to the ground by Viking raiders, and he moved his missionary base to Bremen, which nearly suffered the same fate several times over. He laboured to end the Baltic slave-trade, and though he redeemed countless thousands from bondage, Viking slavers continued to operate with impunity.
Despite all these setbacks Ansgar persevered in his mission, and whenever one opportunity was cut off, he sought another avenue for spreading the gospel. His persistence had one small return in 854, when a new king in southern Denmark allowed him to re-open his mission and begin rebuilding the Danish church. He died on February 3, eleven years later.
The Church honours Ansgar as the Apostle of Scandinavia because his tenacious efforts in the face of disaster and discouragement were like the seed mentioned in the gospel itself. They were a small beginning which eventually bore a rich harvest two centuries later, when Christianity at last found a home among the children of the Vikings.
St. Ansgar’s feast day falls in Epiphany.
A traditional emphasis during the weeks of Epiphany has been the mission of the church. Ansgar was a monk who led a mission to Denmark and then later to Sweden, where he built the first church. His work ran into difficulties with the rulers of the day, and he was forced to withdraw into Germany, where he served as a bishop in Hamburg. Despite his difficulties in Sweden, he persisted in his mission work and later helped consecrate Gothbert as the first bishop of Sweden. Ansgar also had a deep love for the poor. He would wash their feet and serve them food provided by the parish.
Ansgar is particularly honoured by Scandinavian Lutherans. The Church of Sweden honours him as an apostle. His persistence in mission and his care for the poor invite congregations to reflect on their own ministry of bearing the light of Christ during the days of Epiphany. We mark the feast of St. Ansgar on 3rd February.