Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples. This process has continued for close to 2000 years. Vast regions were converted to Christianity. One of the regions converted was Livonia, a historic region along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The most prominent ruler of ancient Livonia was Caupo of Turaida. In modern times the state of Livonia corresponds to the Baltic state of Estonia.
Everybody has heard of the Christian crusades against the Moslems and the Jews. These battles form an important chapter in the history of the word. Little is heard about the Christian crusades against the pagan tribes of the lands bordering the Baltic Sea. Yet these are important and its worth highlighting how the Christian faith spread in the Baltic area of Northern Europe. Here also the sword played a prominent part
The Pattern of Conversion
The spread of Christianity in the Europe followed a distinct pattern. This reached the apex during the late middle ages. As a start the Christian armies destroyed the holy sites of the pagans and demonized their gods. Traditional religious ceremonies were classified as witchcraft. They were also criminalized with death as a punishment. The Christian’s were clever and in the process of the spread of Christianity absorbed pagan customs into Christian practices.
This was based on the Great Commission. The great commission is the instruction of Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his teachings to the entire world. Perhaps Christ never wished for the sword to spread his beliefs, but his overzealous followers did precisely that and Christianity spread by the sword. The refrain that Islam spread by the sword is also applicable to Christianity.
The conversion of the people of Livonia thus followed a well-trodden path. Livonia at that time was populated by tribes that followed Pagan practices. These tribes were fanatically opposed to Christianity. Pope Celestine III made plans to send a fleet with crusaders to the Baltic state, but he died before the plan could be executed. His successor Pope Innocent II carried the plan forward.
Christianity Spread and the Sword
Spread of Christianity
The pagan’s fought fiercely but the crusaders had the upper hand. Much of the conversion to Christianity of Livonia was carried out by Bishop Albert. He was assisted by a newly founded order called the Brothers of the Sword which was affiliated to the Teutonic order. This was in 1237. The Teutonic order launched a great conflict in the Baltic lands and the bloodshed lasted for close to half a century. The Teutonic order destroyed paganism in Livonia and adjoin lands
Till the arrival of the Christians the Baltic tribes followed pagan customs and rituals. From 1199 onwards the Roman Catholic Church decided to Christianize the heathens. Christian armies were more interested in conquest than conversion, but victory in battle presented a fait accompli to the tribes who converted to Christianity. Livonia and adjoining areas were conquered in wars from 1206-90. Paganism was destroyed, along with large scale massacres. The Christian armies spared no one and rich and poor alike were massacred without any compunction.
Christianity Reigns Supreme
For some time the Livonian people practiced their religion secretly The King of Lithuania, Mindaugas and his queen converted to Christianity, but continued to practice their pagan religion secretly. But the dice was cast against the tribes who finally converted to Christianity (Catholicism) by 1386. Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity. There were no further crusades in Europe. This was the last expedition by the Christian armies and they won. They looted the conquered lands, but ensured that Christianity was accepted all over Europe.
The Christian armies would have also converted the entire Middle East, but here they were checkmated by the Moslem armies, who not only defeated them, but occupied large areas of Europe as well.
A point that needs emphasis is that the Christianization of the Baltic lands including Livonia was done by the sword. A big hand in this was played by the Christian Brethren of the sword, who were members of the Teutonic order. This was on the direction of the Pope in Rome. The conversion by the sword was a hallmark of the Middle Ages.