The book “In the footsteps of pilgrims” was published in 1992 and presented, for the first time, the medieval pilgrim paths in Norway. The author’s name was Eivind Luthen. That same year, a small pilgrim exhibition was shown at the Norwegian Road Museum. Both the book and the exhinition were a result of Eivind Luthen’s visit to Santiago de Compostela in 1978.
The authorities were thus inspired to begin marking the Norwegian pilgrim trails, and the first of these was opened in 1997. Today, there are about 2 500 kilometres of marked trails through Norway. Most of these trails end up in Trondheim – or Nidaros as the city was called in the Middle Ages.
The remains of Saint Olav, Norway’s national saint, rested in a silver reliquary until the year 1537. He attempted to unite Norway as a Christian nation, but fell at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.
Pilgrimages to Trondheim were at a high in the years 1100 to 1300, but desisted with the Reformation in 1537. The reliquary was destroyed the same year. In the centuries that followed knowledge about pilgrims was gradually lost.
Sigrid Undset, the Nobel Prize winner (1882-1949) wrote a lot about the pilgrim tradition, both in novels and non-fictional works. Jacob Breda Bull, poet from Østerdalen (1853-1930) became interested in the local pilgrim tradition. It is also worth mentioning that Tylldalen in Østerdalen was the first place to focus on the pilgrim theme with their play that was staged in the local community.
Neither historians, The State Church nor the academic environment were much interested in the pilgrim movement to begin with; it started more or less at grass root level.
Pilgrimage to Nidaros
The most common pilgrim trail is the one from Oslo and north to Hamar via Eidsvoll and then up the Gudbrandsdal Valley. This route is about 650 km long and takes about 30 days to complete. There is a second route west of Oslo that meets the first one north of Mjøsa at the bottom of Gudbrandsdalen.
There is yet another pilgrim path to Nidaros through Østerdalen with links to Sweden, but as yet not connected to Oslo.
Further north, there are two further routes coming in from Sweden. One of these passes by Stiklestad where Saint Olav was killed, and is linked to another pilgrims route from the north.
Short about other trails
|Two pilgrim trails lead to the Medieval Park in Oslo, one on each side of the Oslo fjord through counties Østfold and Vestfold. They both pass ancient settlements and several medieval churches.|
The pilgrim trail through Østfold begins at Halden, near the Swedish border. At the present time there is no marked path leading down the west coast of Sweden. The walk is in a pleasant landscape bypassing most of the towns.
The Vestfold route is especially rich in medieval churches (15) and Viking Age history. The famous grave mounds Oseberg and Gokstad that contained Viking ships can be found along the way through Vestfold that also offers other pilgrim attractions at Tønsberg (ruins), Borre and Løvøya. The present day route is now being extended to Larvik. From Larvik are ferry connections to Hirtshals and the old “Army Road” leading through Denmark to Germany.
There are several pilgrimage points in Oslo, the St Mary’s church (now a ruin) and the St Hallvard’s church (also a ruin). The routes from Østfold and Vestfold converge here and become the starting point of the road to Nidaros.
There are also some trails that lead to local pilgrim goals with no connection to Nidaros. A pilgrim’s trail – 200 km long - in Telemark crosses through beautiful mountain scenery from Seljord to Røldal, with its old stave church containing a healing crucifix. Another trail to Røldal (74 kilometres) starts from Hovden in Setesdalen.
In 2006, a 165 km long pilgrims route was opened in Valdres. It begins at Hedalen stave church and leads to St Thomas’ church at Filefjell, where a new church has been erected on the foundations of the old St Thomas’ church that was torn down in 1808. The church is dedicated to the martyr Thomas Becket. There are six stave churches in Valdres and the trail passes by most of them.
Pilgrimages on Norway’s west coast were undertaken by boat. Stavanger and Bergen were pilgrim goals, but there are a number of historical pilgrim sites along the coast. One of these is the monastery on the island of Selja, dedicated to St Sunniva, in the northwest, half way between Bergen and Trondheim.
It is possible to sail up the coast to Trondheim, a journey that offers many lovely natural harbours, churches and monasteries.
A network of comfortable shelters has been established along the main trail to Nidaros, mostly every 20 km. They are inexpensive shelters, some at farms and are owned by private citizens, congregations or local societies.
There are also some camping huts and shelters owned by Hostelling International along the road. Standard is plain and the price is low for members.
Some are based on self-catering, while others offer food. Usually, you can take a hot shower and dry your clothes.
In towns and villages it is possible to stay in hotels. At present there is little possibility of transporting luggage between shelters. Most owners speak English, but few speak anything else.
There are various accommodation options along the other pilgrim routes if you choose to walk on your own.
The pilgrim season
The walking season is short in Norway, usually June to September. Most of the pilgrims to Nidaros walk in July with an aim to getting there on 29 July, which was the day St Olav died. There are lots of celebrations in Trondheim then; cultural events such as markets, medieval festivals, concerts, exhibitions and so on.
However, there are few pilgrims who walk all the way from Oslo to Nidaros – there were about 30 in 2010 and half of these were foreigners.
Most Norwegian pilgrims walk for just a few days and many divide the walking into several stages that they accomplish year by year. Some prefer to walk just the last stage into Trondheim.
Several long pilgrimages are organised every year in connection with St Olav celebrations with walking routes and luggage transport, as well as some walks across Dovre to Trondheim, at an altitude of 1300 meters.
Each summer, walks to Røldal and in Valdres are organised, in addition to local pilgrimages in Østerdalen and the other routes. An interest in coastal pilgrimages is slowly emerging and some boat pilgrimages are being organised.
The pilgrim routes
The Norwegian pilgrim routes are generally more poorly marked than in Spain and France. They are also more strenuous, with many steep hills and fences that must be crossed. Some of the paths, especially in Gudbrandsdalen run in a zigzag along the valley. There are few paved roads. In the mountains you can drink water from brooks and rivers. Water is usually easy to find; there are taps at every graveyard, and at petrol stations and houses by the road. All water is drinkable.
|The routes sometimes bypass towns and villages, but it is possible to make a detour. Shops are usually few and far apart and food shopping needs planning ahead. There are no shops along the 4-5 day walk across Dovre but possible to get meals at some accommodation.|
Do not count on mobile coverage in the mountains and some larger forests.
|There is a lot of beautiful scenery in Norway and along some routes several medieval churches. Unfortunately these open only for services, but efforts are being made for pilgrims to visit some of them.|
The number of pilgrims walking on their own is still very small, so it’s usually easy to find a room for the night. You can have the paths and the landscape all to yourself, if you want to. You must be aware that there may be a lot of rain in summer and autumn.
It is safe to walk alone in Norway and pilgrims are well taken care of. No risk of dangerous wildlife by the wayside. It’s sometimes possible to ride a horse and partly to go by bike. The Norwegian pilgrims route has achieved status as a European cultural trail. Hopefully, this means that the standard will be upgraded to European levels.
Most foreign pilgrims will perceive the Norwegian price level as high, even though most shelters provide reasonable accommodation.
|A pilgrim needs better equipment in Norway than in Southern Europe. A sleeping bag is mandatory and so is rain gear. You have to get your own food and you need to plan your purchases. This is especially important when crossing Dovre, 4-5 days without shops. |
It’s a good idea to bring a guidebook, torch, first aid equipment, a knife, warm sweater, a hat. The selection of guidebooks available is mostly in Norwegian; however, the maps are good. Some foreigners bring their own tent. This means some extra weight to carry; on the other hand in Norway you can set up your tent almost anywhere free of charge. You can spend two nights in a tent at the same place as long as it is 150 metres from the nearest house.
Unlike Spain, however, the staff at tourist offices has little knowledge about the pilgrim routes.
Culture and nature
There are many medieval churches with interesting interiors along the pilgrim routes. Most of them are closed during the week; however, some church workers have a key.
Interesting churches en route to Nidaros are: Stange church, The “Glass cathedral” at Hamar, Ringsaker church, Ringeby stave church (open daily in summer) and Skaun church.
Nidarosdomen is Norway’s cathedral. On the west facade is a sculpture of the apostle James. There are stone medieval churches along he pilgrim routes in both Østfold and Vestfold and several stave churches in Valdres.
The pilgrim routes pass through historical interesting areas and are often based on ancient roadways. In some places the pilgrims routes have been made to pass old buildings, settlements, bridges, roads, grave mounds, pitfalls or places with an industrial past. Some places we find information boards about history and culture; otherwise the pilgrim must study guidebooks, local information and talk to people along the way.
There are several holy springs along the way, south of Lillehammer, at Dovre and at Meldal. The pilgrim route also offers beautiful wooden bridges, water falls, fantastic vistas, opportunities for a quick dip, historical shelters, old forests, wonderful flora, birdlife, forest berries, mushrooms and many opportunities for fishing. If you walk quietly, you may observe moose, deer, reindeer and birds. At Dovre you may be able to sight musk ox.
The confraternity of St. James in Norway
The society was established in 1996 and celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2011. Chairman of the board is Trond Muri. The president of the society is Eivind Luthen, who also established it and the information office. As of 2011, the number of members is about 1200. The society publishes Pilegrimen magazine, four times pr. year. Eivind Luthen is editor. Tormod Berger is webmaster (www.pilegrim.no)
|The confraternity St James has been an active player in promoting pilgrim interests in Norway, and has been inspired by similar societies in Western Europe. The pilgrims’ ways in France and Spain are of special interest. The office, which is close to Oslo Cathedral has been in operation since 1994 and is open daily as the society’s secretariat. |
The society is active in spreading information about pilgrimages in Norway and abroad and in motivating people to embark on pilgrimages. In 2010, the society handed out about 1 000 credentials to Norwegians going to France and Spain. The society is also working to link the pilgrim routes to the European ways via Sweden and Denmark, for example the Oslo-Halden route, which can be extended to Lund in Sweden. The arch bishop’s seat for Scandinavia was in Lund from 1103 to 1153.
|The society has also been engaged in other routes, and established the historical main route between Oslo and Hamar. The confraternity of St. James and cooperating groups has published guidebooks for pilgrimages in Norway and in Spain (Via de la Plata- and Madrid routes). |
The society also cooperates with Merlot Reiser that organises trips for people who want to walk in France and Spain.
Norwegian interest in Spain grew largely as a result of pioneers such as Arne Aakermann, Knud-Helge Robberstad and Lars Erik Espeland who were the first to publish books on the Camino.
Gema Agüera Buglioo from La Coruna was the first to embark on the pilgrims’ route from Oslo to Trondheim. She started at Easter in 1997 and continued all the way to the North Cape.
James the disciple in Norway
There is only one St James church from the Middle Ages, it’s in Eidfjord in Western Norway. In the church is an effigy showing a kneeling woman who is giving St James a church. In recent years, a play featuring the dramatic story about the St James church has been shown.
The confraternity’s logo has been taken from the reliquary in Hedalen (about 1250). It shows the disciple James and St Olav. This motive is the only one from Norwegian Middle Ages showing the two saints together, which is also a symbol of the society’s efforts to link the Norwegian and European pilgrim routes.
The confraternity St James has donated original works of the pilgrim apostle to Ringsaker Church and Borre Church. The society has also produced pilgrims credentials and diplomas that are presented to pilgrims walking to Trondheim. The society has contributed to the erection of a bronze sculpture of a female pilgrim in Tønsberg, which happens to be a twin city with Covarrubias near Burgos.
We can help you
As a pilgrim you are very welcome in Norway. At our office in Oslo we will give you free credentials and good help in planning your pilgrimage northwards. If you would like a blessing before setting off, we will help organise that. We appreciate it if you contact us well before you intend to begin walking. Our email address is: email@example.com