Archdiocese of Nidaros - History


In Norway it was the kings who introduced Christianity, which first became known to the people during their martial expeditions. The work of Christianization begun by Haakon the Good (d. 981) was carried on by Olaf Tryggvason (d. 1002) and Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olaf, d. 1030). Both were converted Vikings, the former having been baptized at Andover, England, by Aelfeah, Bishop of Winchester, and the latter at Rouen by Archbishop Robert.

In 997 Olaf Tryggvason founded at the mouth of the river Nidelva the city of Nidaros (now Trondheim) where he built a royal palace and a church; he laboured to spread Christianity in Norway, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. King Olaf Haraldsson created an episcopal see at Nidaros, installing the monk Grimkill as bishop. Moreover, many English and German bishops and priests came to Norway. The Norwegian bishops were at first dependent on the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, and afterwards on the Archbishop of Lund, Primate of Scandinavia. As the Norwegians wanted an archbishop of their own, Pope Eugene III, resolving to create a metropolitan see at Nidaors, sent thither as legate (1151) Cardinal Nicholas of Albano (Nicholas Breakspeare), afterwards Adrian IV. The legate installed Jon Birgerson, previously Bishop of Stavanger, as Archbishop of Nidaros. The bishops of Bergen (bishop about 1060), Faroe Diocese (1047), Garðar, Greenland (1126), Hamar (1151), Hólar, Iceland (1105), Orkney (1070; suffragan till 1472), Oslo (1073), Skálholt, Iceland (1056), and Stavanger (1130) became suffragans.

Archbishop Birgerson was succeeded by Eysteinn Erlendsson (Beatus Augustinus, 1158–88), previously royal secretary and treasurer, a man of intellect, strong will, and piety. King Sverre wished to make the Church a tool of the temporal power, and the archbishop was compelled to flee from Norway to England. He was able to return, and a reconciliation took place later between him and the king, but on Eystein's death King Sverre renewed his attacks, and Archbishop Eric had to leave the country and take refuge with Absalon, Archbishop of Lund. At last, when King Sverre attacked the papal legate, Pope Innocent III laid the king and his partisans under interdict.

King Haakon III (1202), son and successor of King Sverre, hastened to make peace with the Church. To regulate ecclesiastical affairs, which had suffered during the struggles with Sverre, Pope Innocent IV in 1247 sent Cardinal William of Sabina as legate to Norway. He intervened against encroachments on the part of the bishops, reformed various abuses, and abolished the ordeal by hot iron. Owing in great measure to the papal legates, Norway became more closely linked with the supreme head of Christendom at Rome. Secular priests, Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Dominicans, and Franciscans worked together for the prosperity of the Church. Archbishops Eilif Kortin (d. 1332), Paul Baardson (d. 1346), and Arne Vade (d. 1349) were zealous churchmen. Provincial councils were held, at which serious efforts were made to eliminate abuses and to encourage Christian education and morality.

In 1277, the Tønsberg Concord (Sættargjerden in Tønsberg) was signed between King Magnus VI of Norway and Jon Raude, the Archbishop of Nidaros confirming certain privileges of the clergy, the freedom of episcopal elections and similar matters. Nidaros (Trondheim), the metropolis of the ecclesiastical province, was also the capital of Norway. The residence of the kings until 1217, it remained until the Reformation the heart and centre of the spiritual life of the country. There was situated the tomb of St. Olaf, and around the patron of Norway, "Rex perpetuus Norvegiae", the national and ecclesiastical life of the country was centred. The feast of St. Olaf on 29 July was a day or reunion for "all the nations of the Northern seas, Norwegians, Swedes, Goths, Cimbrians, Danes, and Slavs", to quote an old chronicler, in the cathedral of Nidaros, where the reliquary of St. Olaf rested near the altar. Built in Roman style by King Olaf Kyrre (d. 1093), the cathedral had been enlarged by Archbishop Eystein in Gothic style. It was finished only in 1248 by Archbishop Sigurd Sim. Although several times destroyed by fire, the ancient cathedral was restored each time until the Reformation in Norway. Then Archbishop Eric Walkendorf was exiled (1521), and his successor, Olaf Engelbertsen, who had been the instrument of the royal will in the introduction of Lutheranism, had also, as a partisan of Christian II, to fly from Christian III (1537). The reliquaries of St. Olaf and St. Augustine (Eystein) were taken away, sent to Copenhagen, and melted. The bones of St. Olaf were buried in the cathedral, and the place forgotten.

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