The Faroe Islands have been a self-governing dependency of the Kingdom of Denmark since 1948. Over the years, the Faroese have been granted control of some matters. Areas that remain the responsibility of Denmark include military defence, police, justice, currency and foreign affairs.
The Faroe Islands were politically associated with Norway until 1380, when Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden, which gradually evolved into Danish control of the islands. This association ceased in 1814 when Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden, while Denmark retained control of Norwegian colonies including the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. The Faroe Islands have two representatives on the Nordic Council as members of the Danish delegation.
The literal meaning is “Saint Olaf’s Wake” (vigilia sancti Olavi in Latin), from Saint Olaf’s death at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 (see Olsok), but the Løgting predates this event. Like several other Faroese holidays, the vøka begins the evening before, so Ólavsøka always starts on July 28 with an opening ceremony.
Ólavsøka is the day of the year when many Faroese crowd into the capital Tórshavn. There the national rowing competition finals are held, which is one of the highlights in Faroese sports. In addition, there are art exhibitions, folk music, and Faroese chaindance performances.
The salute for Ólavsøka in Faroese is Góða Ólavsøku! (Good St. Olaf's Wake!).
Sigmundur Brestisson (961 – 1005) was the first Faroe-man to convert to the Christian faith, bringing Christianity to the Faroes at the decree of Olaf Tryggvason. He is one of the main characters of the Færeyinga saga.
According to the Færeyinga Saga, emigrants who left Norway to escape the tyranny of Harald I of Norway, settled in the islands about the beginning of the 9th century. Early in the 11th century, Sigmundur, whose family had flourished in the southern islands but had been almost exterminated by invaders from the north, was sent back to the Faroe Islands, whence he had escaped, to take possession of the islands for Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway.
At first Sigmundur tried to Christianize the Faroe Islanders, on decree of the Norwegian king, by bringing the order to the Alting in Tórshavn, but was nearly killed by the angry mob. He then changed his tactics, went with armed men to the residences of the chieftain Tróndur í Gøtu, broke in his house by night and gave him the choice between Christianity or beheading. That worked.
According to tradition, his gravestone is located in the so-called Sigmundarsteinur in Skúvoy. It bears a carved cross and was part of the old church.