Nidaros or Niðarós was the medieval name of Trondheim in Norway, when it was the capital of the country's first Christian kings. It was named for its position at the mouth (Old Norse: óss) of the River Nid (today's Nidelva).
Although the capital was later moved to Oslo, Nidaros remained the centre of Norway's spiritual life until the Protestant Reformation. The archdiocese of Nidaros was separated from Lund in Scania by the papal legate Nicholas Breakspeare in 1152 and the shrine of Saint Olaf in Nidaros Cathedral was Northern Europe's most important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. Archbishop Olav Engelbrektsson served as a leader of Norway in attempting to resist the Danish Reformation but was forced into exile by King Christian III in 1537. The archdiocese was abolished and replaced with a Lutheran superintendenture.
The Christianization of Norway was begun by Haakon the Good (d. 961), and carried on by Olaf Trygvesson (d. 1000) and Saint Olaf Haraldsson (d. 1030), two Vikings who had converted and been baptized at Andover in England and at Rouen in Normandy respectively.
Olaf Haraldsson established Nidaros as a see and installed the monk Grimkill as its first bishop. As Norway lacked universities at the time, many English and German priests were brought in for its parishes and bishoprics. The Norwegian bishops were at first dependent on Hamburg and then (after 1103) on Lund in Sweden.
Pope Eugene III resolved to create a metropolitan see at Nidaros and sent Nicholas Breakspeare as his legate in 1151. Nicholas installed Jon Birgerson, then bishop of Stavanger, as the first archbishop of Nidaros. The bishops of Oslo (established 1073), Bergen (c. 1060), Stavanger (1130), Hamar (1151), Orkney (1070), Skálholt (1056) and Hólar (1105) on Iceland, and Garđar on Greenland were made its suffragans.
Jon Birgerson was succeeded as archbishop by Eystein (Beatus Augustinus, 1158–88), previously royal secretary and treasurer, a man of brilliant intellect, strong will and deep piety. Such a man was then needed to defend the liberty of the Catholic Church against the encroachments of King Sverre, who wished to make the Church a mere tool of the temporal power. The archbishop was compelled to flee from Norway to England until he was able to return, and a sort of reconciliation took place later between him and the king. But on Eystein's death Sverre renewed his attacks, and Archbishop Eric had to leave the country and take refuge with Archbishop Absalon of Lund. At last, when Sverre attacked the papal legate, Pope Innocent III laid the king and his partisans under interdict.
King Håkon III Sverresson (1202), son and successor of Sverre, hastened to make peace with the Church, whose liberty had been preserved by the unflinching attitude of the pope and his archbishops. What would have happened, asks the Protestant ecclesiastical historian of Norway, Dr. Anton Christian Bang, if the Church, deprived of all liberty, had become the submissive slave of absolute royalty? What influence would it have exercised at a time when its chief mission was to act as the educator of the people and as the necessary counterpoise to defend the liberty of the people against the brutal whims of the secular lords? And what would have happened when a century later royalty left the country? After that time the Church was in reality the sole centre about which was grouped the whole national life of our country.
To regulate ecclesiastical affairs, which had suffered during the struggles with Sverre, Innocent IV in 1247 sent Cardinal William of Sabina as legate to Norway. He intervened against certain 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, as well as 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) showed especially remarkable zeal. Provincial councils were held, at which serious efforts were made to eliminate abuses and to encourage Christian education and morality
There at Nidaros was situated the tomb of St. Olaf, and around the patron of Norway, Rex perpetuus Norvegiae (meaning: Perpetual king of Norway), the national and ecclesiastical life of the country was centred. Pilgrims flocked from all quarters to the tomb. 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 the Romanesque style by King Olaf Kyrre (d. 1093), the cathedral had been enlarged by Archbishop Eystein in Ogival style. It was finished only in 1248 by Archbishop Sigurd Sim. Although several times damaged by fire, the ancient cathedral was restored each time until the storms of the Reformation.
Archbishop Erik Valkendorf was exiled in 1521 and his successor, Olaf Engelbrektsson, who had been the instrument of the royal will in the introduction of Lutheranism, had also, as a partisan of king Christian II of Denmark and Norway, to fly from the threat of Christian III (1537). The valuable reliquaries of St. Olaf and St. Augustine (Eystein) were taken away to the Danish capital Copenhagen and melted down. The bones of St. Olaf were buried in the cathedral, and the place left unmarked. Tradition holds that this is so that no future despot can ever find them and steal them again.
In the early 19th century, when Norway regained self-rule as a separate Kingdom in a union with Sweden in 1814, a period of national romanticism was ushered in, in which much attention was paid to the remains of the independent medieval kingdom. It was resolved to restore the ancient cathedral of Nidaros. Now it stands once more completed as the largest cathedral in Northern Europe.
The city of Trondhjem actually changed its name back to Nidaros on January 1, 1930. After a fierce campaign among the citizens against the new name, the Norwegian Parliament, mainly due to Ivar Lykke, changed its name to Trondheim on March 6, 1931.
Recently the pilgrimage route to Nidaros Cathedral, the site of Saint Olav's tomb, has been re-instated. Following the Norwegian spelling the route is known as Saint Olav's Way. The main route, which is approximately 640 km long, starts in Oslo in the ruins of the Old City (Gamlebyen) and heads North, along the lake Mjøsa, up the valley Gudbrandsdal, over Dovrefjell and down the valley Oppdal to end at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. There is a Pilgrim's Office in Oslo which gives advice to pilgrims, and a Pilgrim Centre in Trondheim, under the aegis of the Cathedral, which awards certificates to successful pilgrims upon the completion of their journey.
The name Nidaros is still employed as a name for Trondheim in some contexts. The modern Lutheran diocese is known as Nidaros, while the Catholic one is now known as Trondheim. It is also used in some commercial cases, such as the Nidar confectionary based in the town.
- Catholic Encyclopedia. "Ancient See of Trondhjem".
- Maurer. "Die Bekehrung des norwegischen Stammes", I.ii.168. (Munich), 1855.
- Bang, Anton Christia Den norske Kirkes Historie under Katholicismen (Christiania: 1887, 44, 50)
- Maurer. I.iii.462.
- Daae, Ludvig. Norges Helgener, pp. 170–6. A. Cammermeyer (Christiania), 1879.
- Baluze, Étienne Letters of Pope Innocent III (Paris: 1682. I, i, 226, 227)
- Bang. op. cit., 109
- Bang, op. cit., 297
- Adami gesta pontificum Hammaburgensium (Hanover: 1876, II, 82)
- Pilgrimage to Nidaros (Scandinavica.com)
- Munch, P.A. Throndhjems Domkirke (Christiania: Fabritius, 1859)
- Krefting, O. Om Throndhjems Domkirke (Trondhjem: Aktietrykkeriet, 1899)
- Mathiesen, Henr. Det gamle Throndhjem (Christiania: 1897)
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