Normandy owes its origin and name to the seafaring Norse warrior people from what is today known as Denmark, Norway and Sweden from the late 8th to 11th centuries. The Vikings and their descendants established themselves as leaders and nobility across Europe and especially in England after the Norman conquest of the Islands.
The Vikings pirated, raided and sieged wide areas of Europe, Iceland and Greenland and even travelled as far as North-America, the Mediterranean littoral, North Africa, and the Middle East by means of their infamous long-ships. This civilisation was technologically, militarily and culturally more advanced than the cultures they crossed, and being expert seafarers and navigators, they could exploit most of the the coasts and rivers of the old world.
The first sightings of them on the Seine were around 820, when 13 Viking ships reached the Seine Bay, but they were quickly forced to return due to an unsuccessful raid. Notably 21 years later, a fleet sailed up the River Seine and took the city of Rouen by absolute surprise, they ransacked the city and burned it to the ground. The loot from Rouen’s treasure cove was so enormous it only fuelled the Viking army’s lust for more and they continued their assaults, wherever they landed along the banks of the Seine. No one was spared, not even the monasteries of Jumièges or Fontenelle, that was ransacked more than once for their riches.
Abbey of Jumièges
In the year 845 it was the turn of Paris, when 120 ships managed to besieged the city. The Frank King, Charles the Bald, payed a huge sum of money to spare his city from sure destruction. It worked this time, but year after year the raids continued, some successful, some not.
In 887 the Viking warrior Rolf, imposes himself as chief of the settlement in the lower Seine region and chose Rouen as his capital. Wanting a certain calm to the region and threatened by the ever-present Viking invasions, the King of the Franks, Charles the Simple, granted Rolf territory on both sides of the Seine in return to protect Paris from further attacks. Rolf accepted – and it was at that moment in 911 – that Normandy was born and when Rolf the Viking became Rollo the first Duke of Normandy.
The dynasty of Rollo was to play an enormous part in the future of France and England’s history and his descendants’ reigns, will mark Europe’s history forever spanning from William the Conqueror to today’s Queen Elisabeth II.
Rollo’s recumbent tomb can be found inside the Cathedral, not far away from his sons’, William Longsword or William I, the second Duke of Normandy.
Another Viking worth mentioning is Olaf II of Norway. He was reared as a pagan and became a Viking warrior in the Baltic region at the height of the Viking’s expansion in Europe. During his exploits abroad he was converted to Christianity in the Roman Catholic Church and was baptised in Rouen in 1013. He was ultimately to became King of Norway when he successfully seized power in 1016 at only the age of 19. He is credited for bringing Christianity back to his kingdom in Norway Olaf’s admiration by his people, his religious work, and the mystery of folklore and miracles that surrounded his death, led to his canonization in 1031 by Pope Alexander III. His popularity spread rapidly; churches and shrines were constructed in his honour in England, Sweden, and Rome. He was the last Western saint accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church.
On the millennial anniversary of his baptism in 2014, the King of Norway – Harald V, offered to strengthen the cultural links between Norway and Normandy and as a gesture of goodwill gave a precious relic of Saint Olaf to the Cathedral. Thousands of pilgrims the world over, especially from Scandinavia, descends onto the Cathedral each year to come and see this fine offer of friendship.