2012 marks the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the first church in North America — by a Scandinavian missionary named Loof Lirpa, who landed in Greenland on April 1, 912.
Lirpa’s efforts were at first unsuccessful among the pagan descendants of the Vikings, known for their daring sea voyages, penchant for violence, skill at imbibing grog, general ignorance and strong smell.
The colony of Greenland had been settled by Erik the Red, looking for some vacant land and forgetting to ask his realtor whether there might be some reason why Greenland was vacant. Newfoundland was discovered by Erik’s son, Leif the Unlucky. Like his father, Leif was looking for some vacant land he could rule because he had always wanted to be a Viking. The colony did well the first summer, but Leif’s branch of the family tree didn’t do well in the fall.
Thus the Vikings preceded Christopher Columbus in the New World by several centuries. Everyone makes fun of Columbus for calling North American natives Indians because he thought he was in India. The Vikings, on the other hand, called the natives Skraelings, thinking they were in Skraeland. Columbus at least thought he was in a real country.
Of course, the Vikings were never very good at names. They called Greenland Greenland (Iceland being already taken), and they called Newfoundland Vineland, probably due to wishful thinking. There is even some speculation that they reached Baffled Island.
Speaking of baffled, I was originally talking about Loof Lirpa, the missionary. He was not very good at gaining rapport with the locals. While Leif and Erik were gregarious, got involved with local people and took native names, the missionary remained aloof.
Loof also faced severe persecution from the Vikings, primarily because his converts were no longer willing to engage in pillaging. The Vikings were going to send him back out to sea in a boat, but the tide turned when Leif’s father Erik was converted. Erik eventually became a priest and was made a cardinal¾which is the real origin of his nickname Erik the Red. (The Christian origin of Erik’s nickname was suppressed by later secular historians.) Eventually, Erik’s son was also converted, quit pillaging and decided to turn over a new Leif.
And that is the origin of the first church in North America, founded by Loof Lirpa, who eventually married and produced a son named Spoof.