The Lady, the Rock, and the Beast

The Kensington Runestone is a slab of greywacke stone — 36 inches long, 16 inches wide, and 6 inches thick — with a fourteenth-century runic inscription on it. Unearthed in 1898, in a rural area of Northern Minnesota, it was named after the nearest settlement, Kensington. What the runes say, and the significance of the message, I’ll get to presently. Let me begin by saying I am neither an archaeologist, nor a philologist, nor a runologist, nor an ancient Scandinavian linguist. The Kensington Runestone has some controversy surrounding it, and it is the experts in these fields who can argue the issues. Lowly non-expert that I am, I am inclined to believe in the veracity of the discovery. Besides the fact that there are scholarly defenses of the stone’s authenticity, I am inclined to reject the forgery theory because it postulates that a Lutheran Swedish farmer would write a Catholic prayer in ancient Runes on a rock in his backyard. Lacks credibility to me.

The following is Adam Miller’s account of the Kensington Runestone (see his “Catholics: The First to Explore and Settle the Mid-West” and scroll down to the subheading, “Minnesota”):

Around the year 1354, during the reign of Pope Innocent VI (1352-62), King Magnus of Norway and Sweden heard that subjects of his, a group of his Greenland colonists, had deserted their settlement for a more favorable climate farther west. King Magnus was a fervent Catholic and was worried that these colonists had abandoned the true Faith and had returned to the pagan religion of their ancestors. The king sent an expedition that was headed by a man named Paul Knutson (or Knudsen). Their mission was to find the settlers and to try to convert them back to the True Faith, if needed. A record of the king’s instructions to Knutson is still extant in Norway.

Knutson’s expedition sailed across to Newfoundland (known as ‘Vinland’ back then), [and] went up and around and into Hudson Bay. They then sailed down to the mouth of the Nelson River, anchored, and, leaving some men behind with the ship, paddled their boats down the river to Lake Winnipeg and then into the Red River of the north. They then found themselves in the heavily wooded yet beautiful lake region of today’s northern Minnesota. They made camp on the shore of a small lake. Some of the group went hunting and fishing for food. When they returned they found the rest of their companions slain and the camp wrecked. Filled with sorrow, they chiseled an account of what happened and left a record of their visit to this land on a large stone. This is the famous Kensington Runestone found by a Minnesota farmer in 1898. At the time the farmer found it, the stone was embedded in the roots of a very old tree that had grown around it. [This is a good opportunity to recommend Adam Miller’s book, Discovering A Lost Heritage: The Catholic Origins of America, which also relates this, along with a lot of other fascinating American Catholic history.]

The Kensington Runestone

For more information, you can read the following generally positive articles (as well as the anti-authenticity entry on Wikipedia):

When translated, the Runestone contains this inscription:

“Eight Goths [some translations have it “Swedes”] and 22 Norwegians on a journey of exploration from Vinland very far west. We had camp by two rocky islands one day’s journey north from this stone. We were out fishing one day. After we came home we found ten men red with blood and dead. AVM preserve us from evil. Have ten men by the sea to look after our ships fourteen days’ journey from this island. Year of Christ 1362.”

Please note the text I emboldened. The AVM is taken by all parties in the authenticity debate to mean Ave Virgo Maria (or simply Ave Maria, with the AV being an abbreviation for Ave). The prayer says “Hail [Virgin] Mary, preserve us from evil.” The AVM, by the way, is the only Latin in the inscription. The rest is a Norse dialect. The petition at the end, “preserve us from evil,” sounds very close to the seventh petition in the Our Father: “deliver us from evil.” When I read the account, it struck me that something so close to a petition in the Our Father was directed to Our Lady. Then I recalled the prayer Our Lady of America taught to Sister Mildred Neuzil, which more explicitly borrows from the Our Father:

By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, deliver us from evil.

The United States have many times been dedicated to Our Lady under her title as the Immaculate Conception. As I pointed out recently: “The United States were dedicated to the Immaculate Conception by Bishop John Carroll, its first bishop, in 1792. In 1846, all the bishops of the nation officially named the Immaculate Conception the Patroness of the United States. An act of Consecration to the Immaculate Conception was made by the Bishops of the U.S. on the occasion of the dedication of the National Basilica in 1959 (the formula used was the same as, or very close to, the one employed by Bishop Carroll). Finally, in 2006 the Bishops renewed this act, this time consecrating the nation to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

A question comes to mind: How is it that we can petition a mere mortal with the words Jesus directed toward His Father? The Virgin Mary is the only sinless and all-holy human person ever to exist. (Jesus was not a human person, but a divine Person with a human nature.) Our Lady is the only sinless one who ever will exist. “The Immaculate Conception” is the name for this unique mystery of pure holiness in a human. Filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost from the first moment of her existence, the Virgin was never touched by evil. Evil flees before her face, especially the “evil personified” we know as the Devil.

In Greek especially, the “evil” in the petition of the Our Father has a personal connotation: “deliver us from the evil one.” The Greek Fathers in general read the petition that way, and applied it to Satan. This interpretation is explicitly taught (and notably not just as one opinion, but as the true meaning) in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2851 and following).

The simple answer to our question above is that Mary, the mystery of pure human holiness, has been given a special power over the devil.

The ancient Marian prophesy of Genesis 3:15 (“she shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”) begins its temporal fulfillment in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but it will continue until the end of time, when the last of her children will be delivered and preserved from the evil one, and she will finally crush his head.

It thrills me to think that we can fight the Devil and his minions on our home turf by praying a prayer Our Lady herself taught her children in America: “By thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, deliver us from evil.” It also thrills me to consider that her power over evil, and her reign in our land, were memorialized in 1362, by Norwegians in Minnesota, writing in runes on a stone.