Trondjem, The Ancient Capital – Scandinavian Travel

On July 25 we left Christiania for Trondjem —the whole journey of three hundred and sixty miles being comfortable, and only costing 30 francs. Toward sunset, beyond the deep cleft in which the river Nid runs between lines of old, painted, wooden warehouses, rises the burial-place of St. Olaf, the shrine of Scandinavian Christianity, the stumpy-towered cathedral of Trondjem, the most northern railway station and the most northern cathedral in Europe.

Surely the cradle of Scandinavian Christianity is one of the most beautiful places in the world ! No one had ever told us about it, and we went there only because it is the old Trondjem of sages and ballads, and expecting a wonderful and beautiful cathedral. But the whole place is a dream of loveliness, so exquisite in the soft, silvery morning light on the fjord and delicate mountain ranges, the rich, nearer hills covered with bilberries and breaking into steep cliffs —that one remains in a state of transport, which is at a climax while all is engraven upon an opal sunset sky, when an amethystine glow spreads over the mountains, and when ships and buildings meet their double in the still, trans-parent water. Each wide street of curious, low, wooden houses displays a new vista of sea, of rocky promontories, of woods dipping into the water; and at the end of the principal street is the gray, massive cathedral where St. Olaf is buried, and where northern art and poetry have exhausted their loveliest and most pathetic fancies around the grave of the national hero.

The “Cathedral Garden,” for so the grave-yard is called, is most touching. Acres upon acres of graves are all kept—not by officials, but by the families they belong to—like gardens. The tombs are embowered in roses and honey-suckle, and each little green mound has its own vase for cut-flowers daily replenished, and a seat for the survivors, which is daily occupied, so that the link between the dead and the living is never broken.

Christianity was first established in Norway at the end of the tenth century by King Olaf Trygveson, son of Trygve and of the lady Astrida, whose romantic adventures, when sold as a slave after her husband’s death, are the subject of a thousand stories. When Olaf succeeded to the throne of Norway after the death of Hake, son of Sigurd, in 996, he proclaimed Christianity throughout his dominions, heard matins daily himself, and sent out missionaries through his dominions. The ardor of the chieftains for paganism was cooled, and they allowed Olaf unhindered to demolish the great statue of Thor, covered with gold and jewels, in the center of the province of Trondjem, where he founded the city then called Nidaros, upon the river Nid.

Olaf Trygveson had a godson Olaf, son of Harald Grenske and Asta, who had the nominal title of king given to all sea captains of royal descent. From his twelfth year, Olaf Haraldsen was a pirate, and he headed the band of Danes who destroyed Canterbury and murdered St. Elphege—a strange feature in the life of one who has been himself regarded as a saint since his death. By one of the strange freaks of for-tune common in those times, this Olaf Haraldsen gained a great victory over the chieftain Sweyn, who then ruled at Nidaros, and, chiefly through the influence of Sigurd Syr, a great northern landowner who had become the second husband of his mother, he became seated in 1016 upon the throne of Norway. His first care was for the restoration of Christianity, which had fallen into decadence in the sixteen years which had elapsed since the defeat of Olaf Trygveson. The second Olaf imitated the violence and cruelty of his predecessor. Whenever the new religion was rejected, he beheaded or hung the delinquents. In his most merciful moments he mutilated and blinded them; “he did not spare one who refused to serve God.” After fourteen years of unparalleled cruelties in the name of religion, he fell in battle with Canute the Great* at the Sticklestadt.

Around the shrine of Olaf in Trondjem, in which, in spite of Harald Hardrada, his “in-corrupt body” was seen more than five hundred years after his death, has arisen the most beautiful of northern cathedrals, originating in a small chapel built over his grave within ten years after his death. The exquisite color of its green-gray stone adds greatly to the general effect of the interior, and to the delicate sculpture of its interlacing arches. From the ambulatory behind the choir opens a tiny chamber containing the well of St. Olaf, of rugged yellow stone, with the holes remaining in the pavement through which the dripping water ran away when the buckets were set down.

In the wide street which leads from the sea to the cathedral is the “Coronation House,” the wooden palace in which the kings and queens of Sweden and Norway stay when they come hither to be crowned.