Susan Peek invites her readers to meet Saint Magnus, one of her friends in high places. Although he lived 950 years ago, he speaks, through his heroic example, to modern readers on the most fundamental of current problems.
Standard definitions tell us that Vikings were pirates, plunderers, and raiders known for their use of the sword and axe to conquer land from Scandinavia to Normandy, subjugating many island in between. Saints, on the other hand, are persons of exceptional holiness recognized by the Church through the process of canonization. How then might a person of great holiness, virtue and benevolence also claim the title, Viking?
Magnus belonged to the family of the Chieftain or Jarl (Earl) of the Orkney Islands, located south of the Shetland Islands, west of Norway and north of Scotland. While raised in a warrior culture, it was not his military prowess in which he demonstrated his heroic virtue. His greatest challenges included external hostilities and betrayal within his own family. As a devout Christian, he forgave even his most despicable and treacherous enemies, for their sake and for the sake of his friends and family. He challenged Christians of all generations to pray for and forgive their persecutors and those who debase even the most sacred trusts and the most fundamental human values.
Susan Peek recreated daily life in the Orkney Island circa 1065— the farming communities, the governmental process and the personal profiles of the ruling family. An attempt by the dying Jarl to insure stability led to tragic consequences. The author brings the reader along for daring rescues, pitched battles among blood-splattered swordsmen, sea voyages and the horrors of imprisonment.
She explored the Dark Ages with its horrors including the agony of surrender, and the realization that the defeated warriors may die of their wounds or worse. They could only watch helplessly as their women and children fell under the power of their merciless enemy. The author analysed the psychology of revenge among those who lust for power, wealth and pleasure and the inevitable clash between Christian and pagan worldviews.
The light of St. Magnus serves as a beacon in this sea of darkness. His gentleness and mercy won the lasting respect of some of those who took up arms against him. He repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to seek peace and spare his enemies with no thought for personal gain and usually at a great personal cost. The power of Providence repeatedly saved him from certain destruction so that he could complete his crowning achievement for the sake of his family and the entire Orkney community.
Susan Peek clearly loves Saint Magnus and after reading about The Last Viking, chances are that your will love him too.
Take away lessons and applications:
- The Year of Mercy – Beginning on 8 December 2015, the church will celebrate a year in which the gates of mercy will swing open. Mercy comes to the merciful. Saint Magnus exemplifies a truly Christ-like mercy that will challenge everyone who may hold a grudge, even against the most despicable person or group they know.
- Sainthood runs in families – Saint Magnus is not alone among the members of his extended family when it comes to canonization. Think of all the other examples families with two or more saints. For instance, the cause of canonization for Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse represent a recent example of how a strong family life leads to sanctity. How many others can you name?
- Geography and History – Susan Peek serves as tour guide to the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, and neighboring Scotland and Norway all the way down to Wales and Ulster. I kept a map of the United Kingdom next to my copy of St. Magnus, so I could follow his many adventures and voyages. St. Magnus will leave you better informed about this important part of the world and its history.