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The Cathedral Of Throndtjem

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



On July 25 we left Kristiania for Throndtjem - the whole journey of three hundred and sixty miles being very comfortable, and only costing thirty francs. The route has no great beauty, but endless pleasant variety - rail to Eidswold, with bilberries and strawberries in pretty birchbark baskets for sale at all the railway stations; a vibrating steamer for several hours on the long, dull Miosem lake; railway again, with some of the carriages open at the sides; then an obligatory night at Koppang, a large station, where accommodation is provided for every one, but where, if there are many passengers, several people, strangers to each other, are expected to share the same room. On the second day the scenery improves, the railway sometimes running along and sometimes over the river Glommen on a wooden causeway, till the gorge of mountains opens beyond Storen, into a rich country with turfy mounds constantly reminding us of the graves of the hero-gods of Upsala. Towards sunset, beyond the deep cleft in which the river Nid runs between lines of old painted wooden warehouses, rises the burial place of S. Olaf, the shrine of Scandinavian Christianity, the stumpy-towered Cathedral of Throndtjem. The most northern railway station, and the most northern cathedral in Europe.

Surely the cradle of Scandinavian Christianity is one of the most beautiful places in the world! No one had ever told us about it, and we went there only because it is the old Throndtjem of sagas and ballads, and expecting a wonderful and beautiful cathedral.

But the whole place is a dream of loveliness, so exquisite in the soft silvery morning light on the fyord and delicate mountain ranges, the rich nearer hills covered with bilberries and breaking into steep cliffs -that one remains in a state of transport, which is at a climax while all is engraven upon an opal sunset sky, when an amethystine glow spreads over the mountains, and when ships and buildings meet their double in the still transparent water. Each wide street of curious low wooden houses displays a new vista of sea, of rocky promontories, of woods dipping into the water; and at the end of the principal street is the grey massive Cathedral where S. Olaf is buried, and where northern art and poetry have exhausted their loveliest and most pathetic fancies around the grave of the national hero.

The "Cathedral Garden," for so the graveyard is called, is most touching. Acres upon acres of graves are all kept - not by officials, but by the families they belong to - like gardens. The tombs are embowered in roses and honeysuckle, and each little green mound has its own vase for cut flowers daily replenished, and a seat for the survivors, which is daily occupied, so that the link between the dead and the living is never broken.

Christianity was first established in Norway at the end of the Tenth Century by King Olaf Trygveson, son of Trygve *and of the lady Astrida, whose romantic adventures, when sold as a slave after her husband's death, are the subject of a thousand stories. When Olaf succeeded to the throne of Norway after the death of Hako, son of Sigurd, in 996, he proclaimed Christianity throughout his dominions, heard matins himself daily, and sent out missionaries through his dominions. But the duty of the so-called missionaries had little to do with teaching, they were only required to baptize. All who refused baptism were tortured and put to death. When, at one time, the estates of the province of Throndtjem tried to force Olaf back to the old religion, he outwardly assented, but made the condition that the offended pagan deities should in that case be appeased by human sacrificethe sacrifice of the twelve nobles who were most urgent in compelling him; and upon this the ardour of the chieftains for paganism was cooled, and they allowed Olaf unhindered to demolish the great statue of Thor, covered with gold and jewels, in the centre of the province of Throndtjem, where he founded the city then called Nidaros, upon the river Nid...

Olaf Trygveson had a godson Olaf, son of Harald Grenske and Asta, who had the nominal title of king given to all sea captains of royal descent. From his twelfth year, Olaf Haraldsen was a pirate, and he headed the band of Danes who destroyed Canterbury and murdered S. Elphege - a strange feature in the life of one who has been himself r; garded as a saint since his death. By one of the strange freaks of fortune common in those times, this Olaf Haraldsen gained a great victory over the chieftain Sweyn, who then ruled at Nidaros, and, chiefly through the influence of Sigurd Syr, a great northern landowner, who had become the second husband of his mother, he became seated in 1 o 1 6 upon the throne of Norway. His first care was for the restoration of Christianity, which had fallen into decadence in the sixteen years which had elapsed since the defeat of Olaf Trygveson. The second Olaf imitated the violence and cruelty of his predecessor. Whenever the new religion was rejected, he beheaded or hung the delinquents. In his most merciful moments he mutilated and blinded them: " he did not spare one who refused to serve God."

However terrible the cruelties of Olaf Haraldsen were in his lifetime, they were soon dazzled out of sight amid the halo of miracles with which his memory was encircled by the Roman Catholic Church...

It was when the devotion to S. Olaf was just beginning that Earl Godwin and his sons were banished from England for a time. Two of these, Harold and Tosti, became vikings, and, in a great battle, they vowed that if they were victorious, they would give half the spoil to the shrine of S. Olaf; and a huge silver statue, which they actually gave, existed at Throndtjem till 1500, and if it existed still would be one of the most important relics in archaeology. The old Kings of Norway used to dig up the saint from time to time and cut his nails. When Harold Hardrada was going to England, he declared that he must see S. Olaf once again. " I must see my brother once more," he said, and he also cut the saint's nails. But he also thought that from that time it would be better that no one should see his brother any more - it would not be for the good of the Church - so he took the keys of the shrine and threw them into the fyord; at the same time, he said, it would be good for men in after ages to know what a great king was like, so he caused S. Olaf's measure to be engraved upon the wall in the church at Throndtjem - his measure of seven feet - and there it is still.

Around the shrine of Olaf in Throndtjem, in which, in spite of Harald Hardrada, his " incorrupt body " was seen more than five hundred years after his death, has arisen the most beautiful of northern cathedrals, originating in a small chapel built over his grave within ten years after his death, The exquisite colour of its green-grey stone adds greatly to the general effect of the interior, and to the delicate sculpture of its interlacing arches. From the ambulatory behind the choir opens a tiny chamber containing the Well of S. Olaf, of rugged yellow stone, with the holes remaining in the pavement through which the dripping water ran away when the buckets were set down. Amongst the many famous bishops of Throndtjem, perhaps the most celebrated has been Anders Arrebo, " the father of Danish poetry " (1587-1637), who wrote the "Hexameron," an extraordinarily long poem on the Creation, which nobody reads now. The Cathedral is given up to Lutheran worship, but its ancient relics are kindly tended and cared for, and the building is being beautifully restored. Its beautiful Chapter House is lent for English service on Sundays.



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