St Olav St Olav's Translation, 14th C. Nidaros Cathedral

On Friday 9 November 2012 a Study Day was held examining the relations between the See of Peter and the land of Saint Olav organised by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Norwegian Institute in Rome

The Northern Frontier of Christianity: Exploring the common heritage of Norway and the Holy See

Summary Report of the Event

by Mr Richard Rouse, Official of the Council for Culture

Trondheim Cathedral Nidaros Cathedral

    Norway has been a Christian country for over a millennium. From the introduction of the Christian faith from around the end of the tenth century until the Reformation, the Church played a decisive role in the spiritual, legal, intellectual, cultural and political life of Norway. King Olav Haraldsson (995-1030) encountered Christianity while plundering England as a Viking. Later, politics and religion merged as he claimed the throne of Norway and established Christianity as the state religion. A king who lived and died by the sword, he was sanctified as Saint Olav and revered throughout the Nordic area and beyond. A cult grew around his mortal remains and the Church grew to the extent that Cardinal Brekespear, later Pope Hadrian IV, brought the pallium and a papal mandate to establish the province of Nidaros in 1252. And so ethical and moral codes became ingrained in Norway’s history as Christianity shaped Norwegian society as Norway looked to Rome for guidance and Rome responded.

    The Study Day focused on the medieval period, when, in accordance with faith and custom, many Norwegians went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago di Compostela and other places of worship. We heard about the details of these voyages from Researcher Sigrun Høgetveit Berg who illustrated with intricate details the diaries, routes, destinations, times and conditions, financial resources, provenance and motivations of these pilgrims. Mons Pasquale Iacobone was able to contextualize these Northern travelers within a panoramic view of all European pilgrimage routes and what they would encounter on arrival in Rome, for omnes viae Romam ducunt. Thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe also headed north, making their way to Nidaros Cathedral, the Holy Shrine of Saint Olav, Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae. Professor Øystein Ekroll’s talk on the Octagon of Trondheim at Nidaros Cathedral gave many insights into the development of the cult surrounding St Olav and the architectural and decorative influences which came from Rome, leaving traces across Norway.

Approaches to Europe

    Throughout the day, it became clear that for Norway the Catholic Church was a spiritual link to the European continent. Paths would separate with the arrival of the Reformation in 1537 by a declaration of the King of Denmark and Norway (at that time the two countries were in a union and the vibrant collaboration and rivalry between the two kingdoms is a recurring theme). Yet the same European cultural air was being breathed and Mr Christian Syse, the Deputy Secretary General of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was able to analyse the shared motivations behind the common concerns linking Norway and the Holy See and set out hopes for a common future, for Norwegian society remains anchored in Christian values. Indeed the values in the Constitution and behind many of the laws have clear Christian foundations. He spoke of how in bilateral and multilateral settings Norway and the Holy See have been able to share their common concern about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, to care for those in difficulty across the world, and work together to promote basic human values and for a future of fundamental respect for man. There are shared experiences in peace processes in different parts of the world, in supporting human rights and democracy building, developing international law and furthering social justice, in campaigns for disarmament and against cluster munitions and mines, to improve the situation of Christian minorities in that part of the world, for the fight against climate change, the alleviation of poverty, the right to education, the radicalisation of religious groups, the integration of minorities and equal rights.

Cardinal Ravasi talks to the Scholars

    Life in the towns and cities of late medieval Europe was expertly illustrated from the religious perspective by Professor Alessandra Bartolomei Romagnoli of the Pontifical Gregorian University who introduced the theme Rome in the mystic North, which examined a group of Northern women in Rome, including Bridget of Sweden and her daughter Catherine. She illustrated the mystical traditions, the visions, hopes and expectations these woman had and their relations with the social, political and ecclesiastical authorities. Professor Torstein Jørgensen spoke of the penitential requests that arrived in Rome, by land and sea, and how they were administrated under the Papal Corpus Iuris Canonici, beginning with the Decretum Gratianum and Norway’s Compositio Tunsbergensis (1277). He concluded with the fascinating story of three Gaelic speaking penitents from the Hebrides (then a part of the Archbishopric of Nidaros) who had vowed to fight the Saracens in Cueta. Having arrived on the African coast they found a truce, and so visited Rome to ask to be released from their vow. Finally, a talk form Monsignor Pagano, the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives showed the collaboration between Norway and the Holy See in the field of research, guardianship and scholarship of medieval documents in the Vatican archives.

    But Norway has also become secular and has had to grapple with multiculturalism, becoming pluricultural. While the population remains largely Lutheran, the Government has had to make concerted efforts to relate the traditional Christian religion to the interests of today’s Norwegians. The arrival of migrants from other cultures has been a catalyst for re-examining traditional beliefs as, sadly, have the events on the island of Utøya in July 2011 been a moment to rediscover the philosophical and anthropological values underlying Norwegian culture. Rather than challenging the existing ethical values a deeper understanding of them has arisen and Norwegian society today is characterised by broad debate. This basic stance of dialogue is something Cardinal Ravasi encouraged in his closing remarks, appealing for a sort of Courtyard of the Gentiles in Norway. For while religion is sometimes seen as a source for conflict, in fact it is more a catalyst for creating peace and harmony between peoples. The ability to acknowledge that there are areas of disagreement, that Norway and the Holy See do not see eye to eye on all issues, for example on the treatment of family, means that dialogue must be encouraged and difficult questions faced transparently and with intelligence. Cardinal Ravasi’s closing remarks also traced the contribution to European thought and culture by Norwegians, particularly in the nineteenth century with references to Edvard Munch, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Sigrid Undset, Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Grieg. And of course he gave words of thanks to the organisers, particularly Ambassador Rolf Trolle Andersen, Professor Turid Karlsen Seim, of the Norwegian Institute in Rome and Bishop Carlos Azevedo for their input to the event which marked thirty years of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Norway.

The view from the Norwegian InstituteMr Christian Syse, Msgr. Pasquale Iacobone, Ambassador Rolf Trolle Andersen, Prof. Torstein Jørgensen


Morning Session at the Norwegian Institute, Rome

(Viale Trenta Aprile 33)

Moderating: Prof. Turid Karlsen Seim, Director of the Norwegian Institute in Rome

9.30am             Opening Remarks: Norway and the Holy See - common heritage, common concerns.

Ambassador Rolf Trolle Andersen, Ambassador of Norway to the Holy See

Assistant Secretary General, Christian Syse, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

10.00am           Ass. Professor Øystein Ekroll, Cathedral Arcaeologist at Nidaros Cathedral

St Olav and the Octagon of Trondheim - a Nordic martyrion?

10.30am          Monsignor Pasquale Iacobone, Pontifical Council for Culture

The pilgrims of Europe: omnes viae Romam ducunt [in Italian]

11.00am  Coffee

11.15am     Dr. Sigrun Høgetveit Berg, University of Tromsoe

A Journey to Rome from the Arctic in the Holy Year 1500

11.45am  Discussion

12.30pm Morning Session Concludes

Afternoon Session at the Pontifical Council for Culture

(Via della Conciliazione, 5)

Moderating: His Excellency Monsignor Carlos Azevedo, Delegate, Pontifical Council for Culture

3.00pm            Prof. Alessandra Bartolomei Romagnoli, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

Rome in the Nordic Mystic [in Italian]

3.30pm            Prof. Torstein Jørgensen, School of Mission and Theology

Some Aspects of Piety and Penance; The Presence of Rome in the Far North in the Late Middle Ages

4.00pm Coffee

4.15 pm His Excellency Monsignor Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archive

Relations between Norway and the Holy See in the archives of the Secret Archive of the Vatican [in Italian]

4.45pm Discussion

5.30pm     Closing remarks: His Eminence Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

Simultaneous translation provided