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Álfur Þórsson (Fidem Pacis)

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Álfur Þórsson (1332 - 1401 AD) was the Christian Bishop of Greenland from 1368 and the first Bishop of Vinland after that diocese's creation in 1378. He is remembered for leading the survivors of the Greenlanders to safety in the warm and fertile fields of Vinland.

Álfur was born in Iceland and was ordained in Trondheim in 1356. In 1368 he was sent to renew communion with the Greenlanders, the last bishop having died some thirty years before. For three hundred years the settlements in Greenland had thrived, but from the turn of the 14th century, faced by a rapidly cooling climate and with none of the experience that their Skraeling neighbours had, the Greenlanders found themselves slowly shrinking in number.

By the time Álfur arrived they were reduced to barely 200 families in and around Garðar, poised on the brink of starvation. Perhaps they too would have perished, had Álfur not been determined to save them. In 1374 he returned to Norway to plead with King Haakon VI for assistance, but was told that there was little that could be done.

The king did, however, mention that if Álfur did find a way to save the Greenlanders, he would be able to replenish their numbers with new families. Norway, and indeed all of northern Europe, was being flooded with Christian immigrants from the Muslim south, and the home country was finding itself unable to cope with the population boom.

In 1375 Garðar was sacked by the Skraelings, and Álfur decided that Greenland was doomed. With the agreement of the town council, he decided to try and relocate the Greenlanders to warmer climes. A return to the ancestral homelands in Iceland and Norway was out of the question; but knowledge of the isles of Vinland to the south had never truly faded from Norse memory, and as late as 1300 Greenlandic ships had occasionaly sailed south to fell lumber and trade with the native Beothuk. Therefore, over several months in 1377, the entire Norse population of Greenland evacuated to Vinland where they established a new settlement at Straumfjörð.

Álfur's actions were later approved by King Haakon, who rewarded him with a new bishopric and new colonists, and he is honoured to this day as one of the founders of Vinland. Greenland would not be reclaimed until the 18th century, but the re-establishment of a permanent Norse presence across the ocean would soon spark a flurry of exploration and colonisation by other European nations. The Age of Discovery had begun.

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