The Legacy of Olav and Nidaros

Nidaros Domkirken
Nidaros Cathedral – the northernmost cathedral in the world

“Olsok (literally “Olaf’s Wake” or “Olaf’s Vigil” – that is the eve of St. Olaf’s Day) is now the Norwegian name for 29 July, traditionally the date of the death of King Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway, in the Battle of Stiklestad, east of Nidaros (Trondheim), Norway, in 1030.

  Olaf II Haraldsson (995 – 29 July 1030), later known as St. Olaf, (or St Olav), was King of Norway  1015 to 1028. Born in Ringerike, he was the great grandchild of Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway.

Even as a young boy, Olaf had a strong conviction that he was going to lead Norway and be their eternal King that would unite them into one Kingdom. As a Viking chieftain, he went raiding through Estonia and Scandinavia, but it was whilst awaiting the close of  winter in Normandy he was baptised in Rouen Cathedral, (now Notre Dame), by Robert the Dane, Archbishop of Normandy.

Nidaros Cathedral
Nidaros Cathedral side door


The year 1015 saw Olaf back in Norway and with the support of the five Kings of the Uplands, Olaf declared himself King. Furthermore, he then conquered the south of Norway, founding Borg, (now the town of Sarpsborg), and even made peace with the King of Sweden.

However, his reign over a united Norway was not to last, and he was forced to flee into exile, from Canute the Great who had the support of discontented Norwegian nobles. When Canute’s Regent was lost at sea, Olaf took the opportunity to seize back his kingdom, but died at the ensuing Battle of Stiklestad.

Stiklestad Church where Olaf fell in battle Source: Wikipedia

It is said that Olaf’s body is buried somewhere near the present day site of Nidaros cathedral,  by a stream. Some time after the burial, legend has it that Olav’s coffin rose up out of the ground, and was re-interned. Rumors begun to circulate in the community about Olaf’s exploits and his legendary status, and when the coffin again rose up out of the burial site as second time, the people opened it and it was said to “smell like roses”.

Burial place of St Olav
Burial place of St Olav

A year after his death, he was canonized as a Saint. Construction  began on the Nidaros Cathedral in 1070 over the burial site of St. Olaf. The oldest parts  of Nidaros, still in existence date from the middle of the twelfth century, as fire has reduced the cathedral to ruins until the Reformation.

As the northernmost cathedral in the world, it is a site of pilgrimage even today.

Nidaros Domkirken
Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway built to honour St Olav


Olaf was canonized by Bishop Grimkell in Nidaros on 3 August 1031, and is remembered as Rex perpetuus Norvegiae, the Eternal King of Norway. [He is, however, remembered] more so than his attempts to finally and forcefully convert the country to Christianity, Olaf’s martyrdom at Stiklestad appears to have contributed decisively to establishing the Church in all parts of the country.” [Odd Steinar]

Pilgrims would leave their mark on Nidaros cathedral walls to ward off evil

It seems that Olaf, like many Scandinavian kings, used his Christianity to gain more power for the monarchy and centralize control in Norway. The cult of Olaf not only unified the country, it also fulfilled the conversion of the nation, something for which the king had fought so hard. [Wikipedia]


And today the Olsok legacy lives on, not only in Scandinavia, but also in many parts of the world, where Scandinavian heritage is honoured. Whether this was Olaf’s primary or secondary intention, it is clear that he is remembered as Norway’s patron Saint:  the King who united Norway for the first time.

gammel bro2014
In Trondheim

Something to  Ponder About