The Dark Ages
My slipshod notes from Theology on Tap . . .
Let's make one thing clear: “Dark Ages” and “Middle Ages” aren't synonymous, not by any means. The Middle Ages roughly connote 500 to 1500. The Dark Ages are only 800-1000.
Things get wild, wooly, and vague starting around 600 AD. They get so murky that some, not entirely nutty people, think that a couple hundred of those years didn't exist, meaning we're really in the year 1717 right now.
During this period, pretty much everything goes wrong. You had the Muslims invading everywhere possible (turned back by Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel, at Tours, but Muslims still in solid control of Spain and trying to penetrate through the seas and southern European coast). They had cut off the grain supply from Egypt, which the west had relied upon since the time of Cleopatra, and killed trade in general.
Magyars slammed into central Europe.
And, of course, we had the vikings.
I don't think a lot of people appreciate the absolute fury of the northmen. These weren't just long ships pulling up, sacking a village, and going home. These were huge forces, spawned by overpopulation (which is hard to believe in light of the Nordic countries' today refusal to procreate at all . . . Reminds me of that joke that I thought of during last weekend's Mass when I was supposed to be paying attention: What do the Easter Bunny and Swedish semen have in common? Neither exist). You ever wonder why Scandinavian women are so hot? It's because the Vikings took all the good looking women back to Scandinavia (maybe), before they started to actually settle large areas of Europe: England, Normandy, Russia.
But here is where we start getting back into hard core Church history. Missionary work. And here, we'll have to go backwards a bit.
Other missionary work wasn't as interesting as St. Patrick's. The Vikings who conquered and settled in much of England, northern France, and other areas of Europe inter-married and eventually converted, either out of sincere conviction or political motivation and once in awhile, genuine love for their Catholic wives.