ANSGAR or ANSKAR (Aasgejr, Osgejr, "God's Spear"; the modern Oscar): The apostle of Scandinavia, first archbishop of Hamburg (831-895); b. of prominent Frankish parents near the monastery of Corbie (9 m. e. of Amiens), probably in 801; d. at Bremen Feb. 3, 865. After his mother's early death he was brought up at Corbie, and made rapid progress in the learning of the time. In 822 he was one of a colony sent to found the abbey of Corvey (New Corbie) in Westphalia, and became there a teacher and preacher. When, four years later, Harold, king of Denmark, made an alliance with the Franks which included the acceptance of their religion, Ansgar was among those chosen to accompany the king to Denmark to evangelize the people. He and his companion Autbert founded a school at Harold's court after the Frankish model, but their work had to be abandoned on account of the downfall of Harold (827) and the illness and death of Autbert. In the autumn of 829, probably, Swedish ambassadors appeared at the imperial court and asked that Christian missionaries he sent to their country. Again Ansgar was selected, and with him, Witmar, his former colleague in the abbey-school at Corvey. After a perilous journey, they reached Sweden and were allowed to preach freely, with considerable success, at Björkö (Birka) on an island in Lake Malar.


Ansgar spent two years in Sweden, returning home in 831 to report to the emperor. The time was now ripe for the accomplishment of a plan of great importance for the northern missions, which Charlemagne had had in mind, and for which his son had now found the right man, viz., the establishment of a bishopric of Hamburg. Besides a diocese formed from those of Bremen and Verden, the new metropolitan was to have the right to send missions into all the northern lands and to consecrate bishops for them. Ansgar was consecrated in Nov., 831, and, the arrangements having been at once approved by Gregory IV., went to Rome to receive the pallium directly at the hands of the pope and to be named legate for the northern lands. This commission had previously been bestowed upon Ebo, archbishop of Reims; but an amicable agreement was reached by which the jurisdiction was divided, Ebo retaining Sweden for himself. For a time Ansgar devoted himself to the needs of his own diocese, which was still missionary territory with but a few churches. He founded in Hamburg a monastery and a school; the latter was to serve the Danish mission, but accomplished little.


After the death of Louis le Débonnaire (840), Ansgar lost the abbey of Turholt, which had been given as an endowment for his work, and in 845 Hamburg was destroyed by the Danes, so that he was a bishop without either see or revenue. Many of his helpers deserted him, and his work was in danger of extinction. The new king, Louis the German, came to his aid; after failing to recover Turholt for him, he planned to bestow upon him the vacant diocese of Bremen. There were many canonical and other difficulties in the way; but after prolonged negotiations Nicholas I. approved the union of the two dioceses (864). From 848 Ansgar resided in Bremen, and did what he could to revive the Danish mission. When he was established in a position of dignity once more, he succeeded in gaining permission from King Haarik to build a church in Sleswick, and secured the recognition of Christianity as a tolerated religion. He did not forget the Swedish mission, and spent two years there in person (848-850), at the critical moment when a pagan reaction was threatened, which he succeeded in averting. In his own diocese he showed himself a model bishop, forward in all works of charity, and of a prayerful and ascetic life. His humility was most marked; when people attempted to venerate him as a wonder-worker, he reproved them, saying that it would be the greatest of miracles if God should deign to make him a really devout man. He was canonized by Nicholas I. not long after his death. A collection of brief prayers from his hand is extant with the title Pigmenta (ed. J. M. Lappenberg, Hamburg, 1844). The Vita et miracula of Willehad, first bishop of Bremen (MGH, Script., ii., 1829, 378-390; also in MPL, cxviii. 1013-32) is attributed to Ansgar by Adam of Bremen; the life, however, is by another.