Norway – Trondhjem, Between The River Nid And The Fjord

There is an old Norse song with the refrain

“It is so pleasant in Trondhjem to dwell,”

and, indeed, it is an attractive place, with all those embowering trees, the winding river and the rich green fields of the suburbs. The specially close proximity of warm ocean currents makes the climate here surprisingly mild and pleasant ; the river here rarely freezes, even in midwinter; the fjord is open all the year round. The summer climate is like that of southern England, the winter about like that at Dresden, though we are five hundred miles nearer the Pole; market gardeners hereabouts raise a great variety of excellent vegetables and fruits.

Do you notice that there is a railway track skirting the river-bank on this side? That is one of the very few lines in the whole kingdom, and the most important of all, for it extends through the Osterdal to Christiania, following up this river Nid to near its source, then crossing over to near the head-waters of the Glommen river, and so finding a route comparatively easy for so mountainous a country. A train bound for Christiania would move from our left to-wards our right. The whole distance is three hundred and fifty miles, and the journey takes eighteen hours in an express train. The railway station is over at the farther (north) side of the town, near the harbor. From there trains also depart for Stockholm, five hundred and thirty miles away, over tracks leading eastward beyond the town.

Several lines of steamers come here. The town has large mills and factories of various sorts, the trade in fish and furs is of considerable importance, and there are a good many wealthy old families.

The river at this nearest point is flowing toward the left; it bends around beyond those large buildings on the point, and appears again flowing toward the right, turning a second time beyond the cathedral, and making its way to the fjord. The town itself was called in old times Nidaros, that is, “mouth of the Nid;” as such it is mentioned in the Sagas. The name was changed to Trondhjem in the sixteenth century.

The governor’s palace, used as a royal residence when Their Majesties, King Haakon and Queen Maud, were crowned here (1906), is not clearly distinguishable just now, but it is in the middle of the town, about half way between that tall cathedral spire and the harbor-front.

The coming of the sovereign up here to Trondhjem for coronation is in accordance with the very ancient national usage. King Olaf Tryggvason, whose story is one of the most romantic in mediaeval history, founded a Christian church here, and built a royal palace. He was the Olaf of whom the Heimskringla Saga tells, the hero of Longfellow’s “Saga of King Olaf” in the Tales of a Wayside Inn. He was rescued from slavery in a foreign land, came home here to claim his birthright, wrested the kingdom from usurpers, and overthrew the ancient pagan faith, or at least dealt it terrific blows ready for the finish by another Olaf (Saint Olaf) a few years later. That cathedral, which towers so conspicuously over the neighboring buildings, has seen the coronation of a long line of Norway’s sovereigns. When the national constitution was adopted in 1814, one of its provisions was that rulers of Norway thereafter should always be crowned at Trondhjem, or “Drontheim,” as Longfellow calls it.

Out by that dark headland Olaf’s ships must have passed on their way up to Salten fjord, to carry to pagan Raud the sovereign’s emphatic, if not ingratiating, demand that he embrace Christianity:

…O Sea King, Little time have we for speaking; Choose between the good and evil ; Be baptized, or thou shalt die.”

It was a vigorous method of presenting the Gospel !

Out past that same headland must have swept the splendid array of Olaf’s fighting ships, when he set out on his ill-starred expedition to the Baltic. On his return he became separated from the main body of his fleet, and was attacked by the combined fleets of Olaf of Sweden, Svend Forked-beard of Denmark, and Earl Erik of Norway. Olaf fought bravely on his famous ship, the Long Serpent, but rather than be killed or captured he sprang overboard and was drowned. This combat is known in Scandinavian history as the battle of Svolder, and was fought in September, 1000.

It is interesting to note that it was in Nidaros that Olaf Tryggvason met Leif Erikson from Greenland, converted him to Christianity, and, before departing for the Baltic, sent him to Greenland to introduce Christianity in the Norse colony there. It was on this long voyage to Greenland that Leif was drifted out of his course, and came to an unknown land, which he called Vinland, on account of the grape-vines that grew there. It is absolutely certain that Vinland was a part of the American continent. An old Norse Saga, called “The Saga of Erik the Red,” gives a detailed account of this first discovery of America.

Shall we go down nearer the cathedral? The main business streets of the town are less interesting than one might suppose they would be, for the place has been repeatedly ravaged by fire, and among the new buildings practically nothing now remains of the mediaeval civic and domestic architecture. The cathedral itself has, however, recently been restored, largely according to the design of its older architects. We shall go down to a point in the church-yard at the farther side of the building, so that the octagonal apse, which we now see at the right of the spire, will be at the left.