Norwegian Kin...

In 1238 A.D., Gospatrick and Gilchrist son of M'Erchar - two Norse chieftains - were directed by the King of Norway to go to the Isle of Man. We don't know what became of Gilchrist, but Gospatrick died in 1240 A.D. at the Church of St. Michael's, on St. Michael's Isle, on the east side of Man. He was buried at the Abbey of Russin (now Castletown). Indeed, Scandinavian names outnumber Gaelic names two to one on 12th and 13th century runestones on the Isle of Man.

How did a pure Norwegian come to have a Gaelic name? To answer this question, we have to refute the official Norwegian legend that Christianity was brought to Norway by St. Olaf in 1000 A.D. from respectable European sources. In fact, it had to have been seeping in for centuries via Ireland, Scotland and Man through the agency of the Irish monks, and those Vikings who brought back with them stories and ideas they had learned in the provinces - as well as their newly acquired Christian Irish slaves!

St. Olaf began his attempt at the forcible conversion of all of Norway in 1016 A.D., at the age of 21, following his own conversion. He had a lot of support, which furthers the notion that Christian ideas were not new to the Vikings; but the majority still preferred Thor, and he failed. He ran away to Sweden, returned to try a second time, and was defeated once again and finally killed in 1030 A.D. In spite of that, in 1164 A.D. he was canonized, so Christianity must have ultimately taken hold. Legend has it that the battlecry of his armies was "Men of Christ!", which is the translation of our surname. Two of his closest friends and advisors were men named Lief and Gilli.  Gilli is an example of our surname prefix (meaning "servant", or "follower") existing in Norway at the end of the first millenium.

As further proof of the infusion of Christianity from Ireland into Norway, just before 1000 A.D. the Norwegian Bishop of the Hebrides, named Patrek (after the patron saint of Ireland), became a foster-father to a Viking named Orlyguy. This man built the first church in Iceland, and on his way there he stopped in a fjord which he named "Patreksfjord" in honor of his foster-father. Interestingly enough, Patrek insisted that Orlyguy should commemorate St. Columba and the shrine at Iona when he built his new church. Iona is on the southern tip of the Hebrides, right in the middle of Norwegian territory at the time, and it is where you will find the Gilchrist cross.

Given this sort of wholesale transfusion of religious culture, it is not difficult to imagine that people named Gilchrist, who were already present at Iona three centuries earlier, would by now be working within the Norwegian church and aristocracy. (This is a future research direction.) And there was, in fact, one very significant personage that history recalls:

Harald Gilchrist

In 1093, Magnus Bareleg (also translated as "barfuss", or 'barefoot') campaigned vigorously in Scotland, Man, Dublin and even Anglesey, where he chased out the Normans. He earned his unique name by adopting the dress of the Celts, the kilt. He died in northern Ireland in 1103 A.D.; and in that same year was born Harald Gilchrist (spelled Gilli and Gillikrist in some saga translations, because "Christ" is spelled "Krist" in modern Norway). John Gillchrist recently mentioned that I should point out that Harald was not a slave who was taken back to Norway, but was a Viking child born of an Irish mother and a Viking "jarl", therefore a Viking-Gaelic child. Harald Gilchrist was said to be a jovial and popular fellow, but he was stung in some way by the royal Court of Magnus the Blind, and reacted by challenging the throne in 1130 A.D. He was able to attract a lot of support, and led the Norwegians in a civil war in the winter of 1134-35, which he won. Magnus the Blind was not actually killed until 1139, and Harald was killed in 1136 (murdered while in a drunken stupour, says one source), but the throne remained in the hands of Harald's descendants for the next two centuries.

It will come as less of a surprise by now to note that there are Gilchrists yet today in the Norwegian telephone book who spell their name precisely as we do, and who may well be descendants of Harald. Jean Gilchrist lives in Oslo, and Borghild Gilchrist lives in Bergen, a village in Hellevik - at least, they still did when I originally researched this material in 1992.
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