Did you know Norway has a pilgrimage? Well, I didn’t until we stumbled on it.
The pilgrimage is called St. Olav Ways—“ways” because you can choose one of several routes, as long as you end up at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
Here I am at Old Aker church in Olso next to kilometer marker 639 (that is 639K from Nidaros), and in front of Nidaros at marker 0, feeling like a slacker for getting there by bus instead of on foot.
The tomb of St. Olav the Holy (the guy who converted Norwegians to Christianity) was right here, underneath the church. The present building was begun in the 12th century and took several hundred years to build. (See that corner of a building sticking in on the left? There’s a free toilet in there. You’re welcome.)
Having come here on our accidental pilgrimage to see the northernmost Gothic cathedral in the world, HOB and I did our usual thing; looking all around and inside the church, studying the statues with a monocular, picnicking on a bench in front of it, and finally, attending vespers.
Here are a few details of the facade sculptures and gargoyles:
On the left, Mr. Pilgrim himself—St. James, normally seen in pilgrimage churches of France and Spain. On the right, Mr. I-Accessorize-with-Decapitated-Heads.
And my favorite: Mr. Aspiring Actor Headshot.
Pillar swallowers, because sword swallowers are so 11th century.
A couple more charmers….
And an accurate picture of my face when that other Gothic beauty, Notre Dame, was on fire last week.
There’s a museum in the archbishop’s palace next door with many fine original statues from the church, as well as a film detailing the heroic dedication of historians and artisans who have documented, preserved and restored Nidaros Cathedral over the years. There’s also another museum with the usual tedious crown jewel stuff—oh look, the king had a cape with gold crowns embroidered all over it, you know, just in case he forgot he was king….barf.
While the Camino to Santiago de Compostela will always be my first love, I can feel the draw of the pilgrimage to Nidaros too. While there would be fewer of my darling Romanesque churches to visit, the opportunity to walk through the outrageously spectacular landscape of Norway would be its own sort of spiritual experience.
And of course, faithful pilgrims are rewarded with this vision at the end of their long journey: