Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Arboricide in Helmold of Bosau's Chronicle of the Slavs

Helmold of Bosau, Chronicle of the Slavs 1.47, tr. Francis Joseph Tschan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935; rpt. Octagon Books, 1966), p. 149 (priest [later bishop] Vicelin among the Nordalbingians in the year 1127):
When they had come to the place to which he had been appointed, Vicelin observed the appearance of the locality and the fields, frightful as a wasted and unproductive heath. It was also a boorish and uncultivated folk, having nothing of religion saving only the name of Christianity; for there existed among them the manifold error of groves and springs and other superstitions. In beginning, then, to live "in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” and “in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness” Vicelin commended himself the more entirely to the divine protection, [the more] he was destitute of human solace. The Lord, however, gave him grace and favor in the sight of that folk, for as soon as he began to preach the glory of God and the happiness of the life to come and the resurrection of the body, the boorish people was by a great miracle deeply moved at the novelty of the teaching it had not understood, and the darkness of sin was dispelled by the brightness of the illuminating grace of God. In truth, we would not be believed if we were to say how great a multitude of people had recourse in those days to the cure of penance. And the voice of Vicelin's preaching resounded in all the country of the Nordalbingians. He began with pious solicitude to visit the neighboring churches, proffering the people wholesome admonitions, setting right the erring, reconciling the discordant, rooting up, besides, groves and all sacrilegious rites.
The Latin text of this excerpt is in Helmoldi Presbyteri Bozoviensis Chronica Slavorum, ed. Bernhard Schmeidler, 3rd ed. (Hannover: Hahn, 1937) = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum in Usum Scholarum Separatim Editi, T. 32, p. 93.

Id., 1.84, tr. Tschan pp. 218-220 (Helmold accompanies Gerold, Bishop of Lübeck in the year 1156):
After staying that night and the following day and night with the ruler, we crossed into farther Slavia to be the guests of an influential man, Thessemar, who had invited us. It happened that on our journey we came into a forest, which is the only one in that country, for it all stretches out in a plain. Among very old trees we saw there the sacred oaks which had been consecrated to the god of that land, Prove. There was a courtyard about them and a fence very carefully constructed of wood and having two gates. For, besides the household gods and the idols with which each village abounded, that place was the sanctuary of the whole land for which a flamen and feast days and a variety of sacrificial rites had been appointed. On the second week day the people of the land were wont to assemble there for holding court with the ruler and with the flamen. Entrance to this courtyard was forbidden to all, except only to the priest and to those wishing to make sacrifices, or to those in danger of death, because they were never to be denied asylum. For the Slavs show such reverence for their holy things that they do not allow the neighborhood of a fane to be defiled by blood even in time of war. They admit oaths with the greatest reluctance; for among the Slavs to swear is, as it were, to forswear oneself, because of the avenging wrath of the gods. The Slavs have many forms of idol worship, for they are not all agreed upon the same superstitious customs. Some display in the temples fantastically formed images, as, for example, the idol at Plön, the name of which is Pogada; other deities live in the woods and groves, like Prove, the god of Oldenburg; of these no effigies are fashioned. They also carve out many deities with two, three, or more heads. But they do not deny that there is among the multiform godheads to whom they attribute plains and woods, sorrows and joys, one god in the heavens ruling over the others. They hold that he, the all powerful one, looks only after heavenly matters; that the others, discharging the duties assigned to them in obedience to him, proceeded from his blood; and that one excels another in the measure that he is nearer to this god of gods.

When we came to that wood and place of profanation, the bishop exhorted us to proceed energetically to the destruction of the grove. Leaping from his horse, he himself with his staff broke in pieces the decorated fronts of the gates and, entering the courtyard, we heaped up all the hedging of the enclosure about those sacred trees and made a pyre of the heap of wood by setting fire to it, not, however, without fear that perchance we might be overwhelmed in a tumult of the inhabitants. But we were protected by heaven.
The Latin text of this excerpt is in Schmeidler, pp. 159-160.

Id., tr. Tschan p. 223 (priest Bruno in 1156 or 1157):
For as soon as he came to Oldenburg he entered with great zeal upon God's work and called the Slavic people to the grace of regeneration, cutting down groves and doing away with sacrilegious rites.
The Latin text of this excerpt is in Schmeidler, p. 164.


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