Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir

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This is an Icelandic name. The last name is a patronymic, not a family name; this person is properly referred to by the given name Gudrid, Gudridr, Guðríðr or Guðríður.
Casting by Ásmundur Sveinsson of a statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir and her son in Laugarbrekka, Iceland
Glaciers and Fjords in Greenland, the first of many lands Gudrid would visit

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (Icelandic: Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir) also known as Vidforla or “the Far-Traveler” was a Norse woman born around the year 980 in Laugarbrekka, Iceland. She is best known for her appearances in “The Saga of Eirik the Red” and “The Saga of the Greenlanders,” known collectively as the “The Vinland Sagas

Biography[edit]

Gudrid’s early story can be derived from “The Saga of Eirik the Red” and “The Saga of the Greenlanders". According to "The Saga of Eirik the Red", Gudrid was the daughter of a chieftain by the name of Thorbjorn of Laugarbrekka. As the story goes, a young man by the name of Einar asked for her hand in marriage, but because his father was a slave, Gudrid’s father refused to give her hand in marriage. When it was suggested that the match would be a wise decision due to Thorbjorn’s financial situation, he announced that he would rather “leave my farm than live with this loss of honor, and rather leave the country than shame my family.” Gudrid and her father promptly left Iceland and voyaged to Greenland to accompany Eirik the Red. Thirty others went with them on the journey, but the group experienced complications due to poor weather, which slowed their progress during the summer. After this setback, illness plagued the group and half of the company died. Despite these failures, Gudrid and her father landed safely in Greenland in the winter.[1] Although it is not mentioned in “The Saga of Eirik the Red,” according to the “Saga of the Greenlanders”, at the time Gudrid was married to a Norwegian merchant named Thorir.[2] According to this account, Leif Eirikson (henceforth named Leif the Lucky) rescued Gudrid and fifteen men from a skerry, brought them safely to Brattahlid, and invited Thorir and Gudrid to stay there with him. That winter, Thorir died of illness.

According to both sagas, Gudrid then married Thorstein Eiriksson, Leif Eiriksson's younger brother and Eirik the Red's son. According to the "Saga of the Greenlanders", Gudrid then accompanied her husband on his quest to Vinland, with the hope that he could retrieve the body of his brother Thorvald (the areas described as Vinland in the two Sagas have been identified as L'Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada). The two spent the winter in Lysufjord with a man by the name of Thorstein the Black and his wife Grimhild, but illness soon struck the group and both Grimhild and Gudrid’s husband Thorstein died. According to this account, Thorstein temporarily rises from the dead to tell Gudrid that she will be married to an Icelander, and that they will have a long life together with many descendents. He stated that she would leave Greenland to go to Norway and then Iceland, and after a pilgrimage south, she would return to Iceland, where a church would be built near her farm. According to the Saga of Eirik the Red, Thorstein makes the voyage to Vinland by himself, and it is only upon his return that the two marry. According to the Saga, “Thorstein had a farm and livestock in the western settlement at a place called Lysufjord” and another man by the name of Thorstein (whose wife in this version is named Sigrid) owned a half-share on this farm. The couple moved to the farm and, like in the Saga of the Greenlanders, Thorstein died and told Gudrid of her future, although in this version he focuses more on the importance of Christianity, asking Gudrid to “donate their money to a church or poor people.” [3]

After his death, Gurid moved back to Brattahlíð, where she married a merchant named Thorfinn Karlsefni, who is described in the Saga of Eirik the Red as being “a man of good family and good means” and “a merchant of good repute”. According to "The Saga of the Greenlanders", after their marriage, and at Gudrid’s urging, the two led an attempt to settle Vínland with sixty men, five women, and a cargo of various livestock (while it is implied in "The Saga of Eirik the Red" that she accompanies him, Gudrid is never actually mentioned in the account of the journey). While in Vínland, the couple had a son whom they named Snorri Thorfinnsson, who is the first European reported to be born in the Western Hemisphere. Shortly after Snorri was born, the family traveled back to Greenland. According to "The Saga of Eirik the Red", the couple had another son named Thorbjorn. Although it is only mentioned in "The Saga of the Greenlanders", Thorfin died, leaving Gudrid to live as a widow.[4]

The Christianisation of Iceland at this period meant that religious conversions were common. Gudrid converted to Christianity and, when Snorri married, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While some have discussed the possibility that Gudrid spoke with the pope on her journey, there is no proof of it. While she was away, Snorri built a church near the estate, fulfilling the prediction that Thorstein had made. When she came back from Rome, she became a nun and lived in the church as a hermit.[5]

Descendants[edit]

According to "The Saga of Eirik the Red," "Karlsefni and Gudrid had a son named Thorbjorn, whose daughter Thorunn was the mother of Bishop Bjorn. Thorgeir, Snorri Karlsefni's son was the father of Yngvild, the mother of the first Bishop Brand."

Cultural references[edit]

Her tale is told in the 2000 novel The Sea Road by Scottish writer Margaret Elphinstone.

Her story is also used as the common thread for the non-fiction book The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, by Nancy Marie Brown.

Her story provides also a framework and a pretext for purely imaginary novel without real historical foundations, in the 2013 novel God's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jones, Gwyn (1961). Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas. London: Oxford UP. 
  2. ^ Sigurosson, Gisli (2008). The Vinland Sagas: The Icelandic Sagas about the First Documented Voyages across the North Atlantic. London: Penguin. 
  3. ^ Jones, Gwyn (1961). Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas. London: Oxford UP. 
  4. ^ Logan, Donald (2005). The Vikings in History: Third Edition. New York: Routledge. 
  5. ^ Brown, Nancy Marie (2007). The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman. Florida: Hartcourt.