I’m going to let you in on a little secret I learned about medieval Viking men while traveling around Norway: They were handsome and well groomed and maybe even…ahem…hot.
Viking men, unlike most of their medieval (and current??) counterparts, were known for their grooming. They bathed once a week, combed their hair, groomed their beards, wore nice clothing, and used scented oils to, one can only speculate, increase their appeal to the fairer sex.
I was visiting the ancient Borgund stave church in southern Norway, where in 1180 AD, Viking paganism collided with Christianity, and where both faiths failed to protect the Laerdal Valley from the Black Death just a century or two later. This site is home to one of the few original stave churches remaining in all of Europe, and is under the protection of the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments. Guests at the church are greeted by guides, fluent in many languages, who revealed to me what I am now calling “The Viking Secret.”
Outside, the church is sheltered by the steeply wooded hills of this glacial valley. The medieval appearance of the church is well-preserved, with stepped roofs and angular gables rising dramatically to the moody skies above. The walls and roofs are protected by ancient pitch-covered shingles, the ridges decorated with finials in shapes of dragons and Christian crosses. The exterior doors are heavily embellished with swirling snakes, animals, and foliage, intricate motifs that hark back to the structure’s Viking designers.
It’s an ancient holy site, one that has stood for nearly a millennium against the ravages of war and the devastation of disease. Inside, the church is nearly empty, but some ancient relics remain. The massive stone altar blocks are thought to be a remnant of pagan ritual practices. The pulpit, dating from the 1500's, still boasts colorful, if somewhat worn, paint, and the paintings of Jesus at the altar, dimly illuminated by tiny windows set high in the walls, date to 1620.
The walls and doors of the church are heavily marked by runic inscriptions, the graffiti of the day. My guide leads me to one corner, tucked away behind an entrance pillar, where stands perhaps the most famous runic inscription at the site. It reads “Thorir carved these runes on the eve of Olavs-mass, as he travelled past here. The Fates created measures of good, evil, and great toil before me.”
The great interest of this church, to me, is the evidence that pagan beliefs lingered within the worshippers at the site, even as they adopted Christianity. Thorir’s words testify to lingering beliefs in the Fates, known as “Norns” in Norwegian mythology, who are present at every birth and cast upon the baby the toils of their coming life. These words of pagan belief were carved, presumably, on the evening before an important Christian festival for St. Olav.
But back to the "Viking Secret." Hidden under a low eave, nearly invisible to passers-by, is a portrait of a Viking man. His hair is combed, appears clean, and his beard is tidy. He could almost pass for the medieval version of a skinny-jeaned hipster. According to the writings of English cleric John of Wallingford, writing in the 11th century, this Viking attention to personal hygiene was directly related to efforts to “seduce high-born English women.” Viking warriors were accused by this outraged English cleric of undermining the virtue of married women and seducing the daughters of noblemen, adding insult to injury to the residents of the lands they conquered.
I wonder as I leave the church about the travels of Thorir. Is he the handsome, well groomed man depicted in the portrait? I think it unlikely, as he seems to have been a traveler, merely passing through. Whoever this man may be, he is indeed a handsome Viking, sporting a style that, even a thousand years later, has a certain appeal and might even be described as…ahem…hot. Ah, those Viking men (and beards).
If the Pope had time-and the PopeMobile could fly- he just might stop in one of these establishments aptly named to attract the holiest. We start in Napa and end out East - a fun take on where the pope would eat and drink.
WHERE THE POPE WOULD EAT
Food fit for a lumberjack works for His Holiness as well. On the finer side of things in this rustic town, the Pope can expect the chef to turn out his best.
Nunn's is founded by the Nunn family, not by a woman in a habit. No matter, their Southern-style bbq is for the Pope not to miss. A stop in this neighborhood joint would be rejoiced!
The pride of Loudon County and serving local wine and beer to go with their heavenly smoked meats. The Pope cannot pass up a bite or three of their Smoked Gouda Mac'n'Cheese. There's a reason they were named the Best Food Truck in the DC area!
They began as a leap of faith 11 years ago with a goal to uplift and inspire their guests. They've since earned rave reviews and are a crowd favorite as a place to unwind. The Pope can sit back, put his feet up and enjoy a contemporary American meal and experience amazing Grace.
WHERE THE POPE WOULD DRINK
They named a wine after the Pope- Cabernet FRANC-is-a 2012 red. Not only that, they have a beautiful Madonna statue in their vineyard and the owners are Catholic. Did we mention they make wine?
Eat. Drink. Repent. That's their motto and why not? Smack dab in the middle of urban Portland living. The Pope could have a pint of microbrews and then bless a few needy. Oregon is the least religious state in the country but one of the most open minded. No judgement!
Not open to the public, but very welcoming to the Pope! He can stop here for a private tasting of Extra Dark Roast, coffee roasted by Roman Catholic Carmelite Monks. They have faced opposition in a place where one doesn't expect to see a French Gothic-style monastery. The Pope's blessing most welcome here!
In the city that hosted the papal visit- the Bishop's Collar was prepared for the onslaught of tourists. Their slogan: Salvation by the Pint. Come worship with us. Enough said!
They call this gorgeous bar "the affair bar". If the Pope gives notice of his impending arrival, surely everyone will be on their holiest behavior. Perhaps he will try an Sgroppino-The Temple Bar's take on the lemon-y Italian cocktail.
Once I believed in everything I had been taught about God, and I did not question my faith. Then, in my early 20s’ between education, and travelling the world, I began to question the religious aspect of my faith. For a number of years I turned away from Catholicism, and explored the natural world and different beliefs associated with our relationship with the earth, and the elements. In Ireland, the ancient Celtic belief systems are subliminally intertwined with Irish Catholicism, and I realized after time that this was where I felt at home in regards to my faith. A place where two worlds meet can be the richest of places. For example in nature, where the sea meets the shore, there is a profusion of life, scents, and sounds that is richer than the sea or land alone. Both together create something richer and deeper and make you feel alive and in tune with the world.
It has arrived! Portland Greek Festival. The annual harbinger of Fall, Greek dancing and drinking beer on cool days. We decided to hit it early for lunch and load up on all things Greek.
I can't imagine life without my dog - his sincere and goofy ways bring abundant love and laughter into my home, along with dirt, dead leaves, and seemingly endless training challenges. I wouldn't have it any other way, and since a whopping 65% of American households include pets, obviously neither would many others. The celebration of The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4, which coincides with World Pet Day, is a great reason to honor the pets in your life with a blessing or something more. Many local Catholic churches offer in-person blessings for pets by a bona-fide priest; Google your local area to find out where and when. Or try one of our ideas for honoring your pet:
Adopt a cat, dog, horse, rat, or bird. Right now, more than 300,000 adoptable pets are available nationwide on Pet Finder. Find your soulmate and save a life. If you can't adopt, consider fostering an animal through a local animal rescue organization.
Found My Animal offers some of the most stylish dog collars and leashes around, while giving you the opportunity to advertise your "adopt" values and donating to worthwhile causes. Each leash or collar comes with an individually-numbered, stamped tags to serve as a reminder of the uniqueness of your animal.
Dog for Dog has a simple mission: to feed as many shelter pets as possible. By purchasing your dog's food from Dog for Dog, you are feeding two for the price of one!
Shop for your pet essentials at sites that give back to causes that serve pets. We like Doggy Loot because it donates 1 lb of dog food with every order, and offers this Indestructaball, made of eco-friendly mango wood.
West Paw Design offers up the best pet beds around: smush-resistant and made in the U.S. of materials made from recycled plastic bottles. Even better, West Paw is a certified B-Corp, a business that holds an above-and-beyond commitment to healthier employees, sustainable practices, transparency and accountability.
Indoor cats are safe cats, and keeping cats indoors protects birds and wildlife. Keep your cat cozy indoors with a handmade felted cat cocoon available from Vaiva Nat on Etsy. She'll be so contented in her fuzzy pod that she won't want to go out, anyway.
Make your shopping count. Look for business that give back to causes that support animals. One such example is Fetch Eyewear, an online (and brick-and-mortar) retailer of affordable designer eyewear that donates all profits to animal welfare.