The Vikings are known today for being piratical raiders of Europe, capturing whatever goods they could, including people, in lighting raids and then returning to their homes in Scandinavia. Churches and monasteries were among their favorite targets because the structures were usually not very well protected yet they often held great amounts of gold and other treasures.
To the early Vikings, these churches represented nothing more than potentially lucrative targets – the religious connotation meant little to them one way or another. The Vikings followed an Indo-European religion that many of the people of Europe practiced before they became Christians. The Vikings believed that gods and goddesses such as Odin, Thor, Freya, and Tyr watched over them as they went into battle and traversed the seas in their longships. But by the late eleventh century, the old gods were becoming a thing of the past and the Vikings were embracing Jesus.
The Vikings were among some of the last Europeans to embrace Christianity and the manner in which they did so, and the reasons for their conversion were complex. Europeans began sending missionaries to the north in the ninth century and gradually the various Viking kingdoms began to convert. Most of the early Viking rulers converted due to political and economic ties with Christian Europe and then forced their subjects to follow suit. The conversion process was uneven across Scandinavia and there were heathen/pagan reactions to Christianity, but by the early twelfth century the process was complete and Scandinavia was integrated into greater Western Civilization.