What Travel Writers Say

Viking Pilgrimage

© By Mary Alice Downie
  Warehouses Throndhyem (pronounced Tronyem) looked very pretty and picturesque, with its red-roofed wooden houses sparkling in the sunshine, its many windows filled with flowers, its bright fiord covered with vessels gaily dressed in flags. Lord Dufferin, August 27th 1856

     The ancient capital of Norway was decorated for the Crown Prince's first visit when the youthful peer was there. (Sixteen years later he spent several years in Canada as Governor-General.) It wasn't quite so festive when our flock of tourists fluttered ashore from the good ship Trollfjord but the town was handsome enough. Eighteenth-century warehouses cast multi-coloured reflections in the river Nid. There was a May Day parade with drums, choristers in scarlet robes scurrying around the cathedral.
     Trondheim was, founded in 997 by the Viking King Olav Tryggvason. Norwegian monarchs still come here to be consecrated in the cathedral, Scandinavia's largest medieval building. It was begun in 1070 in honour of St. Olav, martyr and patron saint of Norway, who was killed in the battle of Stiklestad (1030) Tradition says that his bones were secretly buried for a year where the high altar now stands. Later, his silver shrine was taken by the dastardly Danes and melted down for coinage, but they think that Olav may still be here... somewhere.
     The cathedral was one of the four major pilgrimage sites of medieval Europe. The other three were Spain, Rome and Jerusalem. Pilgrims came, particularly from Scandinavia, Greenland, Iceland, Orkney and the Faroes. If Santiago de Campostela in northern Spain is a golden blaze, Nidaros is grey and mostly Gothic, reminiscent of Lincoln. (It's known that English craftsmen came to help build it.) Legend says that when the cathedral is finished, the city will sink into the fjord, so they are still working on it.
     "It's very dark, try not to walk into a pillar," said Nora, our guide. "Odd name for a Norwegian," I thought, and then I remembered The Dollhouse. Most of the original furnishings were taken away, but the church is filled with treasures: a Russian icon, c. 1500, a tattered British naval flag "because they were the first to arrive after Norway was freed in World War Two," splendid modern stained glass and work by Norwegian artists. " They're very proud of the rare 18th century 'Wagner' organ, one of four in the world, built by a contemporary of J.S. Bach. "We're not claiming that he played it, but he could have," Nora said. The Archbishop's Palace and Barracks, where the royal Regalia is on display, is a happy blend of modern and old.
     In 1994 the Ministry of the Environment created the Pilgrim's Way Project, encouraging modern pilgrims to undertake the rugged journey( approximately 640 km.), along the ancient trails from Oslo to Trondheim. There is a Pilgrim's centre and an Olav Festival at the end of July. The Swedes are particularly keen.
     Trondheim was burnt down many times, most seriously in 1681, when everything except the cathedral was destroyed. The city was almost entirely reconstructed with wide avenues to prevent further fires, but there is still a treasury of wooden houses and alleyways.

Merchant House In Park  Nidaros Cathedral  Pilgrims Way Sign  Stade Church  Street Scene

     Trondheim is a university town with a main Art Nouveau building (1910) on a hill, an enviable campus, with a backdrop of mountains/fjord/river. Pizza shops too. Norwegians are the biggest pizza consumers in the world "of the deep freeze variety." An engineering professor, tired of climbing the steep hill to the campus, invented the only bike lift in the world. There may be another soon - also in Trondheim. In the 1970s, vandals wanted to tear down an historic section in the heart of the town for a four lane highway, but this was stopped and the enchanting little houses remain.
     The outdoor Trondelag Folk Museum has a collection of more than 60 houses and buildings showing building traditions of the region "from town and country, from mountain to coast and from Sami huts to city mansions."
     Most moving is the tiny stave church (1170) at Haltdalen. It's empty, with no lights. In summer guests are ushered inside, the door is closed and they stand in darkness, to be swept back 1,000 years as a choir sings Gregorian hymns.
     Viking footnote: Leiv Ericsson completed his military service here, before sailing back to Greenland - and Vinland.

Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines as well as a food blog, 'Edible Souvenirs' on the website kingstonlife.ca. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.

Photo Credits
Mary Alice Downie

If you go
Throndheim, Norway
as seen on
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trondheim,_Norway
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Trondheim

What's happening, money, distance, time?
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