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Saint Sunniva
Statue of Saint Sunniva.
Born Ireland
Died 10th century
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church Orthodox Church
Major shrine Selje Abbey
Feast July 8
Patronage Diocese of Bjørgvin; Vestlandet

Saint Sunniva (10th century) is the patron saint of the Norwegian Diocese of Bjørgvin, as well as all of Western Norway.

According to legend, Sunniva was the heir of an Irish kingdom, but had to flee when a heathen king, who wanted to marry her, invaded. At the Norwegian island of Selja, in the present-day municipality of Selje, she and her followers took refuge in a cave. The locals suspected the foreigners of stealing their sheep, and the ruler Håkon Jarl was sent for. Sunniva and her followers prayed to God that they should not fall into the hands of the heathens, upon which rocks fell down blocking the entrance to the cave.

Sunniva and the others died in the cave, but in the years to come miracles were reported on the island. When the Christian king Olaf Tryggvason excavated the cave in 996, the body of Sunniva was found intact. Later a Benedictine monastery, Selje Abbey, was built on the site, the ruins of which can still be seen.

Around 1170 the story of Sunniva was written down in a Latin hagiographic work titled Acta sanctorum in Selio.


Around 1170 the relics of Sunniva were transferred from Selje to Christ Church, the old cathedral of Bergen, and were found to be incorrupt.

During the fires in Bergen of 1170/71 and of 1198 the relics of Sunniva were taken from the cathedral and set down at Sandbru. This reportedly halted the advance of the fire and was hailed as a miracle.

The relics appear to have been lost in or around 1536, as a consequence of the Reformation.