Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir ~ Voyager

Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir (or Eiríksdóttir) was a discoverer born loosely around the year 980 in Laugarbrekka, Iceland. She lived in various places in the Norse known world, and pushed its boundaries on her journeys.

Her unusual voyages began when her father refused permission for her to marry a slave's son. Gudrid and her father left Iceland and voyaged to Greenland to accompany Erik the Red, whose son Þorsteinn she wed, making him her second husband; Guðríður's first husband, Þórir, died at sea. Guðríður and her new husband Þorsteinn undertook an unsuccessful voyage to a territory they called Vínland, which may have been what is now L'Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. Her husband's brother, Leifr Eiríksson, established a short-lived settlement in Vínland some years before, and is currently regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland).

Þorsteinn died of epidemic on their return journey to Greenland. She stayed on their home island but moved to Brattahlíð, where she married a merchant named Þorfinnr Karlsefni. They, circa 1010 AD, led an attempt to settle Vínland with three ships and 160 settlers. Among the settlers was Freydís Eiríksdóttir, according to Grœnlendinga saga and Eiríks saga rauða, sister or half-sister of the before-mentioned Leifr Eiríksson respectively. While in Vínland, Guðríðr and her new husband, Þorfinnr, had a son named Snorri Þorfinnsson, who is the first European known to have been born in the New World. Shortly after Snorri was born, the small family traveled back to Greenland. After a while her husband died and his farm was inherited by Snorri.

The Christianisation of Iceland at this period meant that religious conversions were common. Guðríðr became Christian and, when her son married, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. She visited the Vatican and spoke to the Pope about religion and what she had seen. While she was away, Snorri built a church near the estate. When she came back from Rome, she became a nun and lived in the church as a hermit.

Her tale is told in the 2000 novel The Sea Road by Scottish writer Margaret Elphinstone. It’s also used as the common thread for the non-fiction book The Far Traveler. Voyages of a viking woman by Nancy Marie Brown.

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