Saint Anskar, Apostle of the North
With this question starts the story of a pioneer and his adventures in the North. His name was Anskar, and most fortunately we have his Life, written by a contemporary, Rimbert, the man who directly succeeded him in office. Rimbert wrote the Life very shortly after Anskar’s death; and therefore it contains much that we may trust as true.
Corbie Abbey shelled during Battle of the Somme, 1916
Anskar was a Frank, born in 801 in north-west France, near Amiens. His mother, a woman devoted to the Christian faith, died when he was five years old. In that same year his father sent him to be brought up by the monks of the neighboring abbey of Corbie, founded in the seventh century by Bathild, then the widowed queen of the Frankish king, Clovis the Second. The loss of one so near to him, the loneliness of a little boy taken so early from his home, the surroundings in which he found himself, among crowded brethren chanting psalms, amid long hours of silence broken only by words which told of the joys of heaven and the terrors of hell, seem to have made a deep impression on the child’s mind, still dwelling on a pious mother’s teaching.
Late twelth century carved capital from Corbie Abbey depicting Adam and Eve
Many years afterwards, Anskar told Rimbert of a dream which had come to him in those first days at Corbie. It had been difficult for him, he remembered, when he was only five to settle down to its round of prayer and lessons. It was easier to play with other boys of the abbey school, to try to forget. Then one night, as he lay asleep in the common dormitory, it seemed to him that he was stumbling through a muddy field which caught his feet at every step. He kept on looking toward the fence at its end, but that, he felt in his dream, he would never reach. On its other side ran a broad and pleasant path along which there walked a Lady, radiant in face and clothing. With her were many women clad in white, and among them he caught sight of his own mother. With a cry he started toward her, but he could not reach the fence because of the mud in the field which held him fast. Just then the Lady looked up and saw him struggling. “Son,” she called to him, “do you want your mother? Some day you shall have her again if you work hard, as we do here. We who dwell here have no time to be lazy.”
From Eleanor Duckett, The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1959.
Ansgarius, Lunar crater named for Saint Anskar