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  • 09 avril 2018 - 08:10
  • laurence villoz 3319 signes
Société

Quand une éruption volcanique stimule la christianisation

Paysage islandais https://flic.kr/p/aatyNJUne récente étude dirigée par l’Université de Cambridge met en lumière les liens entre l’éruption du volcan islandais l’Eldgjà, vers l’an mille, et la conversion de la population de l’île au christianisme.

Photo: Paysage islandais CC (by-nc-nd) Eric Montfort 

Par Laurence Villoz

«L’objectif de notre recherche était de dater plus précisément quand l’Eldgjà est entré en éruption», relève l’historien Sébastien Guillet, collaborateur scientifique à l’Institut des sciences de l’environnement de l’Université de Genève (UNIGE). Une récente étude dirigée par l’Université de Cambridge en collaboration avec l’UNIGE a révélé non seulement que l’éruption du volcan islandais l’Eldgjà était survenue en 939, mais qu’elle aurait été utilisée pour stimuler la christianisation de l’île.

«Outre la nécessité de dater l’évènement, nous avions également pour objectif de mieux comprendre les impacts de cette éruption sur le climat de l’hémisphère nord et sur les sociétés médiévales. Un de nos coauteurs, Andy Orchard, qui est spécialiste des langues nordiques, a été le premier à évoquer la possibilité que l’éruption mentionnée dans le poème Voluspa fasse référence à l’éruption de l’Eldgjà», ajoute Sébastien Guillet. Dans ce poème écrit en norrois et probablement composé entre le Xe et le XIe siècle, «une voyante raconte au dieu Odin l’histoire et le destin du monde et des hommes. Elle prédit notamment la fin du paganisme et l’arrivée d’un dieu nouveau et unique».

Une île dévastée

L’éruption de ce volcan a vraisemblablement duré plusieurs mois voire plusieurs années. À cette époque, «cela fait environ 60 ans que les premiers colons se sont installés en Islande». «Les effets de l’éruption ont vraisemblablement été dévastateurs pour la jeune colonie – les terres ont probablement été abandonnées et la famine sévère», souligne Andy Orchard de la Faculté de l’Université d’Oxford, dans un communiqué. Lorsque la catastrophe se produit, «une grande partie de la population est polythéiste, mais on trouve aussi des traces de colons chrétiens. Il n’est pas impossible que l’éruption ait pu être perçue par l’auteur du poème et par une partie de la population comme un «signe», comme la nécessité d’en finir avec les vieilles traditions, les vieilles superstitions. Mais bien sûr, ce n’est qu’une hypothèse», explique Sébastien Guillet.

Selon le spécialiste, aucun phénomène similaire n’a été observé à ce jour. «Toutefois, il existe en Europe de nombreux exemples de manifestations ou cérémonies religieuses organisées dans le but de faire cesser des précipitations trop abondantes ou au contraire pour stopper les sécheresses. Et c’est une tradition qui s’est perpétuée jusqu’à aujourd’hui. Par exemple, la France a été touchée par une très sévère sécheresse en 1976 et dans certaines régions comme en Bretagne (à Vannes notamment), on a invoqué des saints «faiseurs de pluie», à l’image de Saint Patern dans l’espoir de mettre un terme à la sécheresse. Ainsi, catastrophes naturelles et religion sont parfois intimement liées».

La recherche intitulée «The Eldgjà eruption: timing, long-range impacts and influence on the christianisation of Iceland» (L’éruption de l’Eldgjà: date, impacts à long terme et influence sur la christianisation de l’Islande) a été publiée fin mars dans la revue Climate Change.

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