When mighty Wynfrith came into Germania, he brought no conquering army at his back. And yet he came as conqueror, an empty scabbard hanging by his side, sworn before his god to claim the land by strength of arms, hardened by the coldness of his iron will and driven by the force of his invincible soul. Fate hung oer him as a cloud, and all who looked upon it tasted dread. Three times each day a voice cried out “you will conquer Germania by the strength of your own arms,” once at dawn, once at midday, and once at each sun’s setting. Three times each night it called to him, “your will shall be as iron and your soul shall be as fire,” once in first sleep, once in second, and once at midnight’s hour.
He came and made his challenge to the gods of that land, for no man alive could match him. Fearlessly did he bring war upon the gods themselves, for he, a fated man, could never die until he had fulfilled the destiny that was upon him. Yea, mighty gods were in that land, giants of old and monsters, the child of the storm and the master of the seas. But Jupiter the king ruled over all from his bronze throne at high olympus, the strongest of heaven’s children, whose breath is winter. All on earth and in hades feared his lightning bolts, from which no armor could protect.
“Who is this that does presume to make himself the equal of the gods?” asked the king. His attendants answered, “This is that warrior, Wynfrith, who has been doom driven to these lands, a christian who can never die nor rest till he has won them for his master. And he is a nightmare in war, for he has no fear of death, and has never turned from battle. And no arrow may find its mark upon him, nor can any blade pierce his heart, for he has a fate upon him. And he is a native of the roman isle, from which he has come to spread his religion.”
“How can I defeat a man who cannot die? And how can I forestall a fate already set in stone? But I will make this victory bitter to him, and his kind will pay dearly for my revenge.”
Seeing that they answered not his provocations, Wynfrith went forth to the holy place of the gods, the sacred grove of Donar’s oak, which was Jupiter’s own. There he sent for a woodsman’s axe, and dealt his fiercest blow to the prize of Olympus. But the worshipers who were at the grove drove him back. At the last he could not overcome them, for they were strengthened by the might of the god. Then a great wind rose up and tore the tree from its roots, and split it into pieces, and scattered his captors across the grove.
All who were there looked on in wonder to see with what doom the man who had stolen from the king of gods would meet. But Jupiter could do nothing, because he had not yet conquered the land. “I have destroyed the oak of Jupiter. Can he not strike me down with thunderbolts? It is because my god protects me. Jupiter is powerless before the god of Abraham.” Then he took the wood from Donar’s oak, and with it built a church nearby. Still Jupiter’s lightning failed to strike. Thereafter no man in Germania abided the gods. Only the one god commanded respect. And thus the prophecy was fulfilled, for the power of God belonged to Wynfrith, and Wynfrith belonged to God.
But with the promise kept, he felt the presence of death close at hand. His labor was finished, his shield lowered. So he laid down his strength in the dirt and rode out with a chest of books to pray and read as he awaited the end of his days.
As he rode past a band of brigands, the gods whispered to them from the fire, “do you see his chest there? It is full of gold and silver. Slay him, and be rich men.” And they thought to themselves, “he is a famous warrior.” But the gods answered, “you will overtake him by numbers.” And so they waylayed him and readied for a fight. But he only said, “this book I hold in my hand bids me repay not evil with evil. I could repay you with bloodshed for my life, but I no longer have need of it. Therefore keep ye your own.” Then they killed him, but found in his chest only books and scrolls. And a brigands axe split the binding in two.
In those days, Lindisfarne was the jewel of the roman Isle, a treasure of Christendom. The monastery on the holy island was foremost among sacred places in every way; first in beauty, first in fervor, first in authority, preeminent in wealth. Gold and silver lay beneath its floors, priceless jeweled treasures hung upon its walls. The monks there lived in comfort, hiring men of the earth to work that they might dedicate themselves to constant prayer. By law great tracts of inland land likewise belonged to the monastery, and the revenue produced from these flowed outward to the holy island. Its caretakers trusted equally in the strength of their walls, and in the burning of their incense for protection from their enemies. Among places of solemnity nowhere in all the world was there to be found its like, nor will there ever be its like again.
The gods moved in the north, whispering truths about the wealth of the roman Isle, all the excesses of the monasteries, and the uncounted treasures at Lindisfarne. Rumors began to emerge, here and there, of black ships on the horizon. The old gods had begun to show their power to the world again. Whirlwinds were spotted in the north, lightning cracked unceasingly over the sea, and fiery dragons were seen in the skies. Crops turned to dust and fields to salt, and famine threatened the land. Omens of death abounded in every direction. Relief was nowhere to be found.
Then the people of Thor descended on Lindisfarne with lightning at their backs. As the walls of the monastery fell before the onslaught, the monks turned to God, chanting and praying with growing desperation. But God turned a blind eye to their destruction, and would not listen to their prayers, because they did not listen to the pleas of the poor and destitute. As northmen breached the gate, a voice from heaven answered them, “even now, you only try to save yourselves. Let your wealth save you, if it can.”
The northmen found gold and silver beneath the floors, gold behind the walls, gold pressed between the pages of their books. The last monk was slain before the altar by a single stroke from a northman’s axe, and his blood mixed with the communion wine. Once they had pillaged all the treasure in that place, they put the monastery to the flame. And so was the revenge of Jupiter exacted, for he had slain the warrior, spilled blood upon the roman Isle, and taken christian treasures for his own.