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    Viking woman from the sagas turned out to be a legendary traveler and the first nun in Iceland

    She was the first to reach America

    In the Middle Ages, the ancient Icelanders called part of Canada Vinnland, the Land of the Grapes. One of the first to go there was Gudrid, who, according to scientists, gave birth to the first European child there, and ended her adventurous life with a walking pilgrimage to Rome. The publication Atlas Obscura told readers about the first woman who sailed to America in the Viking Age and preceded Columbus by several centuries, restoring her biography and taking a fresh look at many known facts.

    This was the legendary Gudrid, who is known from the sagas. She has been called “the greatest female explorer of all time” and “the most well-traveled woman in the Middle East,” according to Atlas Obscura.

    At the very beginning of the 11th century AD, she gave birth to the first European child in North America. And she ended her global odyssey with a walking pilgrimage to Rome. However, today few can name the name of this extraordinary woman, even if they have heard of Erik the Red and Leif Erikson, her father-in-law and son-in-law.

    Her full name in modern Icelandic is Gudridur Vidfirla Thorbjarnardottir – Gudrid the Far Traveler, daughter of Thorbjorn .

    She was born around 985 AD on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland and died around 1050 AD at Glaumbar in northern Iceland.

    In total, she made eight sea voyages on the Atlantic, and while they were very dangerous and often deadly. What little we know about her comes from the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, which describe the Vikings' conquest of the ocean and their attempts to settle North America, part of which researchers named “Vinland” after the wild grapes that grew up there.

    Vikings crossed the Atlantic almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. The sagas were passed down in Iceland through oral tradition and retold from memory until they were written down in the 13th century. Because of these 200 years of oral transmission, they are more likely to contain many inconsistencies. So, according to one saga, Gudrid was married twice, according to another – three times.

    However, the main tenet of the sagas was proven by archaeology: in the 1960s, the remains of a Viking outpost were excavated in L'Anse aux Meadows, on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Among the debris was found a spindle used for spinning yarn, which was a typical woman's job and therefore may have been done by Gudrid herself. Later, Replica buildings were built at the “Old Viking Village of L'Anse aux Meadows” in Newfoundland, which is believed to have been called Vinland at the time. Gudrid plays such an important role in “The Saga of Eric the Red” that it was even renamed the Saga of Gudrid.” And in “The Saga of the Greenlanders” Gudrid is called “a woman of striking appearance and also wise, who knew how to behave among strangers.” This trait could be useful when dealing with the indigenous tribes of North America, whom other Vikings disparagingly called Skraelings (“weaklings”, “barbarians”).

    The remarkable life story of Gudrid is described in the sagas from the moment when, at the age of 15, she went to Greenland with her father. According to one of the sagas, she is with her first husband Thorir, who died there the following winter. The “emigrants” suffered terribly on the way to Greenland: half of them died on the way, and the rest were shipwrecked on a small island off the mainland. They are saved by Leif Erikson, the son of Erik the Red – a friend of her father, as it turns out. It was for this event that Leif received the nickname “Leif the Lucky”. Icelanders still believe that sea rescue brings good luck to rescuers.

    Gudrid then settles in Greenland and eventually marries Thorstein Erikson, Leif's brother and Erik's son. Leif has just returned from a strange new land he has discovered across the ocean, and, according to one saga, Gudrid joins Thorstein on an unsuccessful journey to the other side.

    Back in Greenland, the newlyweds spend the winter with Thorstein the Black and by his wife Grimhilda, whose settlement is ravaged by plague.

    Gudrid's husband is among those taken by the disease, but his corpse rises from his deathbed to foretell her future: she will marry an Icelander, with whom she will have many children and a long life; she will leave Greenland, visit Norway, make a pilgrimage to the South and return to Iceland.

    Gudrid returns to East Greenland and marries Thorfinn Karlsefni, a merchant from Iceland. At her insistence, an expedition of 60 men, five women and a small number of livestock is sent to Winnland. Already in the Grape Country, Gudrid gives birth to Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first known European-born in the New World. However, the exact year of his birth is unknown: somewhere between 1005 and 1013 AD.

    Harsh living conditions in America, isolation and hostile relations with the natives force the Vikings to retreat. When Snorri turns three years old, the family leaves Vinland for Europe. They are welcomed as heroes at the royal court of Norway, they bring exotic goods from America, sell them and become rich. However, they go to live in the Icelandic village of Glaumbar in Skagafjord. The family leads a peaceful, prosperous life. Thorfinn dies of old age.

    When Snorri marries, Gudrid goes on a pilgrimage to Rome, apparently alone and mostly on foot. When Gudrid returns from her last great journey to Rome, she discovers that Snorri has built a church for her, as she requested. Here she lives the rest of her life in solitude and contemplation. She becomes the first nun in Iceland, and this is the last achievement in a unique life.

    It is unknown when exactly Gudrid died, but she did not die in obscurity. She created a powerful and influential family. Her notable descendants included the first three bishops of Iceland and the compiler of a 14th-century collection of Icelandic sagas, including the Saga of Erik the Red, which mentions his famous ancestor.

    Gudrid's ancestors are said to have been Gaelic servants Unna the Wise, a former Viking queen from Dublin who fled to Iceland around 900 AD.

    Perhaps this woman was an example for Gudrid herself, who was trying to carry out “group emigration.”

    Two episodes from the sagas shed some light on the changing multiculturalism in the North Atlantic around the year 1000. At that time, Christianity began to penetrate the Viking communities, which, however, remained largely pagan. Gudrid herself seems to have been one of the first Christians, but not a tough one. In the house of a family friend, Gudrid, there lived the only woman who knew the “strange song”, who was supposed to help the prophetess Torbjorg perform a magical ritual. But Gudrid had to help her. She initially refuses to sing it because she converted to Christianity. But she was easily convinced that the ritual would help everyone present and would not harm her status as a Christian.

    Another story from the sagas has puzzled readers for centuries because it mentions two “Gudrids.” This episode has traditionally been considered a ghost story; in fact, it may be the earliest recorded conversation between a European and an American. The incident occurs during the second winter of the expedition, when the natives who came to trade again approach the Viking settlement. Gudrid is in the house with his one-year-old son Snorri. The saga then goes on to say: “A shadow fell on the door and a woman dressed in black entered. She was short and wore a shawl on her head. Her hair was light brown, she was pale, and her eyes were very large. She walked up to where Gudrid was sitting and asked: “What is your name?” “My name is Gudrid,” she answered, “what’s your name?” To which the other woman replied: “My name is Gudrid.” The lady of the house motioned for another woman to sit next to her, but at that very moment a loud crash was heard and the woman disappeared.”

    The story may not be as creepy as it might seem. Later versions of interpretations of the saga suggest the possibility of Gudrid meeting a woman from the Beothuk, the main tribe of Newfoundland at that time. Perhaps the native simply repeated what the Viking woman said: “Ek heity Gudrid” (“My name is Gudrid”).

    Often it is it occurs primarily between people who do not speak each other's language.

    Goodrid is an iconic figure in Canadian history, and in 1935 a monument to this great woman was created and displayed at the New World's Fair. York, and now stands in Glaumbar. A female explorer looks out from behind the bow of a ship with a small boy, Snorri, on her shoulder. There are two copies of the statue: one installed in Laugarbrekk (on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula), the other in the lobby of the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa .

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