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Pilgrimage to Nidaros  


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20/05/2017 11:21 am  

In the Middle Ages pilgrims from all across Northern Europe came to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim to visit St Olav's tomb. Today, modern pilgrims can follow the restored St Olav's Way, a 640km-long pilgrim path between Oslo and Trondheim

Europe's greatest pilgrimages

Four were the greatest pilgrimage sites of Christianity during the Middle Ages: Jerusalem in the East, Rome in the South, Santiago de Compostela in the West, and Nidaros (the medieval name of Trondheim) in the North.

Pilgrims from all across Scandinavia and Northern Europe came to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim to visit the place where Saint Olav was buried in the 11th century. The pilgrimage to Nidaros declined after the 16th century, but in the past decades the pilgrimage has been picked up again and rebranded as a tourist route under the name of Saint Olav's Way. For many modern-day pilgrims, hiking the 640 km-long pilgrimage path between Oslo and Nidaros is another way to discover the history and the breathtaking scenery of Norway.

St Olav and Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim p">Olav Haraldsson, later known as St Olav, was a young Viking who became the King of Norway in 1015 at the early age of 20. King Olav converted the Norwegian pagans into Christianity and built many churches all throughout his kingdom until rival chieftains killed him at the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29th, 1030.

King Olav's body was buried on the banks of the river Nid in Trondheim, which at the time was Norway's royal seat, and soon things started to happen. Miraculous healings were reported and there was a sun eclipse which was believed to be the wrath of Heaven caused by the killing of King Olav. The Norwegian Church and the Pope in Rome reacted quickly and Olav was declared a martyr saint in August 1031.

Pilgrims from all across Norway, Scandinavia and Northern Europe began to travel to Nidaros to visit St Olav's grave. The Cathedral was built and the city expanded rapidly. Nidaros became well known in Europe and beyond as one of Christendom's main sites of pilgrimage. Pilgrims who had travelled to Nidaros dedicated churches to St Olav in their home countries, as far away as in Britain, Russia and Constantinople.

Pilgrimages declined in Europe with the 16th century rise of world exploration and the 1536 Protestant Reformation which did not support pilgrimages nor the worship of saints. Pilgrim traffic to Nidaros ended around 1568, many pilgrim paths were left overgrown, and St Olavs grave was hidden unmarked inside the Cathedral.

After four hundred years of neglect, the last decades of the 20th century brought a new interest in pilgrimages across Europe. The main pilgrim path from Oslo to Nidaros was restored and signposted as Saint Olav's Way, and pilgrims started to arrive to Nidaros Cathedral back again from far and wide.

Saint Olav's Way: the pilgrimage route

Pilgrims came to Nidaros from all parts of Northern Europe. In Scandinavia, the ancient pilgrimage routes comprised a network of more than 5000 km of paths and roads that led to Nidaros passing through many places related to St Olav. The two main pilgrim routes were the eastern Romboleden route that goes from Stockholm to Nidaros, and the popular western or southern Pilegrimsleden route which links Oslo to Nidaros. 

The Oslo-Nidaros western route was travelled in the Middle Ages by pilgrims coming from Norway as well as Denmark, Germany, Britain, and other European nations. Today, the western pilgrim path, known as the St Olav's Way, is back to life again. The 640 km-long signposted path starts in medieval Oslo and heads north along Lake Mjøsa, up the Gudbransdal valley and gently uphill all the time until crossing the Dovrefjell mountains, from where the path descends following the Oppdal valley and ends at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. 

The traditional pilgrimage season lasted between June and September, as the whole path is only clear of snow during the summer months. Therefore, pilgrims had a time frame of about four months to travel to Nidaros. On average, it takes a month to walk the 640km-long St Olav's Way between Oslo and Trondheim.

The St Olav's Way gives the modern pilgrim the opportunity to follow the steps of the medieval pilgrims across the very same landscapes of a thousand years ago, discovering the history and the breathtaking scenery of Norway. The route is varied and passes through mountains and valleys, quiet woods and moors, and busy towns and agricultural fields. All along the way there are ancient places related to Saint Olav as well as other historical monuments old and new.

Pilgrims to Nidaros can obtain a St Olav's Passport prior to starting the pilgrimage. The St Olav's Passport can be stamped along the way on local churches so the pilgrim can keep a track of the places visited during the pilgrimage. Upon arrival to Nidaros Cathedral pilgrims can receive the Olavsbrevet or St Olav's Letter, which is a written diploma that confirms that the pilgrim has walked along the pilgrim way to the burial place of Saint Olav.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral, resting place of Saint Olav, is the largest medieval building in Scandinavia and the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. 

The Cathedral started to be built around 1070 over the grave of Saint Olav and was finished sometime around 1300 in romanesque and gothic architectural style. Tradition has it that the High Altar of the Cathedral stands exactly over St Olav's burial site.

Nidaros Cathedral has been visited by thousands of pilgrims every year since the Holy King was buried there almost one thousand years ago. In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral was the greatest building that many pilgrims had ever seen. Today, Nidaros Cathedral is still one of Norway's top tourist attractions with more than 400,000 tourists every year.

The Cathedral is also well known in Norway due to its long, historical relation with the Norwegian Royal family. Many kings of Norway have been crowned or held royal cerimonies in Nidaros Cathedral since the Middle Ages. The Cathedral currently hosts the Norwegian Royal Regalia Exhibition which includes the king's crown, the sword of the realm, the king's sceptre and the king's orb.

St Olavs Festival

July 29th, St Olavs Day, is the anniversary of the Battle of Stiklestad and St Olavs martyrdom. St Olavs Day -called Olsok in the Norwegian language- is also Norways second national day, for St Olav is the Patron Saint of Norway.

In the Middle Ages, thousands of pilgrims arrived to Nidaros Cathedral for St Olavs Day. Today, thousands of modern-day pilgrims are still coming to Trondheim every year for the world-famous St Olav Festival.

The St Olav Festival is Norways biggest cultural event. More than 300 performances take place over the ten days of the festival at Trondheims top venues including Nidaros Cathedral. The St Olav Festival also hosts a Medieval Market at the old Archbishop's Courtyard which recreates the lively atmosphere of times past when thousands of pilgrims gathered in Nidaros for the St Olavs Day celebration.

Do you want to know more about the Nidaros Pilgrimage? /" target="New_Window">Pilgrim Ways to Nidaros, a website made by the Norwegian Heritage Foundation, provides practical information for the modern pilgrim, as well as historical background about the St Olav's Way. /" target="New_Window">Nidarosdomen, the official website of the Nidaros Cathedral. 0" target="New_Window">The Pilgrim Road to Nidaros

This is the only guide to the route in English. As well as giving directions for walking the route, the book also provides information on places of interest along the way, the history of the pilgrimage, a list of suggestions for further reading and a glossary of geographical and useful terms.


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