Nidaros Cathedral is magnificent! The first church was built in this location in 997 by King Olav I who helped to establish Christianity in Norway. But the Cathedral is linked to the story of the 2nd King Olav, King Olav Haraldsson.
Born in 995, the son of a “minor” king (Norway was not a unified country but ruled by many small kingdoms), Olav, at the age of 12, went on a Viking raid to England. But while he went with the purpose of raiding, in the process, he was transformed. He became Christian and was baptized in 1014 in Normandy. He returned to Norway that year and became king, uniting Norway under his rule. In 1024, he established Christianity as the only legal religion. His reign was not met favorably by Norway’s “ruling elite” who conspired against him. He was exiled in 1028 and fled to his brother-in-law’s kingdom in Russia. In 1030, he returned to Norway to retake his throne but was killed and his body was buried - probably at the sandbank on the banks of the river in Trondheim.
But that was not the end of the story. Rumors started of healing at his graveside. One year and five days after the battle in which he was killed, his coffin was removed from the grave and reopened. The body appeared to be unchanged - as if he had just died - and his hair and nails had grown. He was proclaimed a saint and his coffin was placed above the altar in St. Clements church. A wooden chapel was built honoring him and a spring arose with water that had healing powers. New miracles were recounted and people started traveling to this chapel for healing. A verse of a song written in 1035 recounts: “And crowds do come, the deaf and dumb, cripple and blind, sick of all kind, cured to be on bended knee; and off the ground rise whole and sound.” A new church dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus was built by Olav’s half-brother, King Harald Sigurdsson (1045-66) and then another new church was built by his son, Olav (1066-93). This newest church was built on the hill and was the largest church in the country.
But it wasn’t big enough. A hundred years later, plans were made for a cathedral. The first building, begun in the 1140s, displays a 12th century Romanesque style. But, as the building continued into the 13th century, the plans were changed to include Gothic architecture. The building was consecrated towards the end of the 13th century. But this building - as grand and magnificent as it was - was not to last. It was devastated by fire and rebuilt several times, but by the 1500s, the western half of the building had became a roofless courtyard. Then the Protestant king severed ties with the Pope, abolished Catholicism and took over all of the properties and treasures. Pilgrimages ceased - and so did the funds that had come into the Cathedral. The Cathedral was plundered by an occupying army of soldiers who stripped it of its valuables. Through the years, repairs and improvements were made to the cathedral - but fire continued to be an enemy and the building - what was left of it - was in poor condition. Then in 1814, as Norway’s Constitution was being drawn, the Trondheim representative managed to include a clause that stated that the King would be crowned at Trondheim’s Cathedral. Four years later, the King was crowned at Nidaros, resulting in much attention being drawn to the poor condition of the Cathedral. But it wasn’t until the next King was crowned in 1860, that the demand grew for restoration of the Cathedral. In 1869, the rebuilding of the cathedral began. There were interruptions. One of which was war. During WWII, Norway was occupied by Germany - and the Nazi army used the WestNave - which no longer had a roof - for horses. After the war, the rebuilding continued. Major reconstruction was finally concluded in 2001. But… it will never be done. According to an old legend, the cathedral and the town will sink in the fjord if the cathedral is ever finished. So.. on the Southern West Front tower, there is a stone carving of a bricklayer next to the empty spot for the last brick. But the stone mason holds that final stone which will never be put in its place, thus saving the cathedral and the town.
Looking at Nidaros Cathedral now, it is a remarkable intensely beautiful sanctuary with two huge organs - one German organ made by Wagner (no relation to the composer), and one new English organ. Phenomenal. People from all over the world come to this Cathedral. Some come off the tour busses and ships for a quick view at the marvelous architecture. Others come as Pilgrims. Still others come to worship. Kings and Queens came for coronation (now due to changing sensibilities they come for a blessing.) Nadirs Cathedral has a special place in Norway’s history and life, but that is not all. It is also - and I would dare say primarily - an inspiring place of faith revealed in architecture, art, music and worship. God’s story is told in many ways in this place. Thanks be to God.