Saint of the Day – 3 February – Saint Ansgar OSB (801-865) “Apostle of the North”, Bishop, Monk, Mystic, Missionary, Preacher, Miracle-worker, Apostle of Charity Ascetic. Patronages – Denmark, Scandinavia, Sweden, Bremen, Germany, diocese of Hamburg, Germany, archdiocese of. He is also known as Anskar or Anschar. St Ansgarwas the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen – a northern part of the Kingdom of the East Franks. The See of Hamburg was designated a mission to bring Christianity to Northern Europe and Ansgar became known as the “Apostle of the North”. He was born in 801 at Amiens, Picardy, France and died on 3 February 865 at Bremen, Germany.
Ansgar was the son of a noble Frankish family, born near Amiens. After his mother’s early death, Ansgar was brought up in Corbie Abbey and was educated at the Benedictine monastery in Picardy. According to the Vita Ansgarii – The Life of Ansgar, when the little boy learned in a vision that his mother was in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his careless attitude toward spiritual matters changed to seriousness. His pupil, successor and eventual biographer St Rimbert (830–888) considered the visions, of which this was the first, to be the main motivation of the saint’s life.
Ansgar was a product of the phase of Christianisation of Saxony (present day Northern Germany) begun by Charlemagne and continued by his son and successor, Louis the Pious. A group of monks including Ansgar were sent back to Jutland with the baptised exiled king Harald Klak. Ansgar returned two years later and was one of a number of missionaries sent to found the abbey of Corvey in Westphalia and there became a teacher and preacher. Then in 829 in response to a request from the Swedish king Björn at Hauge for a mission to the Swedes, Louis the Pious appointed Ansgar missionary. With an assistant, the friar Witmar, he preached and made converts for six months at Birka, on Lake Mälaren. They organised a small congregation there with the king’s steward, Hergeir and Mor Frideborg as its most prominent members. In 831 he returned to Louis’ court at Worms and was appointed to the Archbishopric of Hamburg. This was a new archbishopric with a see formed from those of Bremen and Verden, plus the right to send missions into all the northern lands and to consecrate bishops for them. He was given the mission of evangelising Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The King of Sweden decided to cast lots as to whether the Christian missionaries should be admitted into his kingdom. Ansgar recommended the issue to the care of God, and the lot was favourable.
Ansgar was consecrated in November 831 and, the arrangements having been at once approved by Pope Gregory IV, he went to Rome to receive the pallium directly from the hands of the pope and to be named legate for the northern lands. This commission had previously been bestowed upon Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims but the jurisdiction was divided by agreement, with Ebbo retaining Sweden for himself. For a time Ansgar devoted himself to the needs of his own diocese, which was still missionary territory with but a few churches. He founded a monastery and a school in Hamburg.
After Louis died in 840, his empire was divided and Ansgar lost the abbey of Turholt, which had been given as an endowment for his work. Then in 845, the Danes unexpectedly raided Hamburg, destroying all the church’s treasures and books and leaving the entire diocese beyond repair. Ansgar now had neither see, nor revenue. Many of his helpers deserted him but the new king, Louis the German, came to his aid. After failing to recover Turholt for him, in 847 he awarded him the vacant diocese of Bremen, where he took up residence in 848. However, since Hamburg had been an archbishopric, the sees of Bremen and Hamburg were combined for him. This presented canonical difficulties and also aroused the anger of the Bishop of Cologne, to whom Bremen had been suffragan but after prolonged negotiations, Pope Nicholas I approved the union of the two dioceses in 864.
Through all this political turmoil, Ansgar continued his mission to the northern lands. The Danish civil war compelled him to establish good relations with two kings, Horik the Elder and his son, Horik II. Both assisted him until his death. He was able to secure recognition of Christianity as a tolerated religion and permission to build a church in Sleswick. He did not forget the Swedish mission and spent two years there in person (848–850), at the critical moment when a pagan reaction was threatened, which he succeeded in averting. In 854, Ansgar returned to Sweden when king Olof ruled in Birka. According to Rimbert, he was well disposed to Christianity.
Ansgar wore a rough hair shirt, lived on bread and water and showed great charity to the poor. Being the first missionary in Sweden and the organiser of the hierarchy in the Nordic countries, he was declared Patron of Scandinavia. Ansgar was buried in Bremen in 865.
His life story was written by his successor as archbishop, Rimbert, in The Life of Ansgar – Vita Ansgarii.
His Relics are located in Hamburg on two places – St. Mary’s Cathedral and St Ansgar’s and St Bernard’s Church.
The Life of Ansgar aims above all to demonstrate Ansgar’s sanctity. It is speaks of St Ansgar’s visions, which, encouraged and assisted Ansgar’s remarkable missionary feats.
Through the course of this work, St Ansgar repeatedly embarked on a new stage in his career following a vision. His studies and ensuing devotion to the ascetic life of a monk were inspired by a vision of his mother in the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Swedish people were left without a priest for some time, he begged King Horik to help him with this problem. St Ansgar was convinced he was commanded by heaven to undertake this mission and was influenced by a vision he received when he was concerned about the journey, in which he met a man who reassured him of his purpose and informed him of a prophet that he would meet, the Abbot Adalard, who would instruct him in what was to happen. In the vision, he searched for and found Adalard, who commanded, “Islands, listen to me, pay attention, remotest peoples”, which Ansgar interpreted as God’s will that he go to the Scandinavian countries as “most of that country consisted of islands and also, when ‘I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ was added, since the end of the world in the north was in Swedish territory”. Saint Adalard of Corbie (c 751-827), was the cousin of Charlemagne.
There are Statues dedicated to him in Hamburg, Copenhagen, Ribe as well as a stone cross at Birka. A crater on the Moon, Ansgarius, has been named for him.
5 thoughts on “Saint of the Day – 3 February – Saint Ansgar OSB (801-865) “Apostle of the North””
Wow. Working within so many storms going at the same time.
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Amazing man, besides being saintly. There is a well-known fact – and yes, for those who believe not – FACT, that God is involved. It is simply not humanly possible to achieve, what so many of the saints did and do, in relatively short lives. Most die pretty young too. I can think of many names but on a quick survey, St Francis and St Ignatius. Both had created huge Orders before they died – both in roughly 20 years. And guess what, no motor vehicles, no airplanes, just feet! No computers, no internet, just a quill.