National Pilegrim Centre
7013 Trondheim (NORWAY)
The Route of Saint Olav Ways
The pilgrim ways through Scandinavia are a network of routes through Denmark, Sweden and Norway, many of them the remnants of historic routes leading to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim where Saint Olav lies buried. Since the 1990s, the ways have been improved and signposted, in order to set out on a variety of walks through the spectacular landscape of Scandinavia.
The city of Trondheim – historically named Nidaros – in Norway was a popular destination for pilgrims not long after Norway’s Viking King Olav Haraldsson (995-1030) fell in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. The king was declared a martyr and a saint in the year 1031. From the 11th century, the Saint Olav cult spread throughout the Nordic countries, and to the British Isles and Hanseatic towns along the Baltic Sea. Adherents were found in the Netherlands and Normandy, and even as far away as Spain, Russia and Istanbul.
The oldest surviving painting of Saint Olav, around 1160 AD, is on a column in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. The number of Olav churches and chapels reminds us that the Saint Olav tradition once flourished all over northern Europe. Prior to the Reformation (before 1540, approximately), we know of at least 340 Olav churches and Olav chapels of which 288 were outside Norway.
In Sweden, we know of at least 75 churches dedicated to Saint Olav, in Denmark around 20 and in Finland at least 13. Saint Olav’s Feast or Olsok is celebrated in many places in Scandinavia each year on 29 of July to commemorate the Saint. It is also the official national holiday of the Faroe Islands. The annual Saint Olav’s Church and Culture Festival in Trondheim always attracts a large international audience for an entire week around Olsok.