In Norway it was the kings who introduced Christianity, which first became known to the people during their martial expeditions (Hergenröther, "Kirchengeschichte", 1879, II, 721). The work of Christianization begun by Haakon the Good (d: 981) (Maurer, "Die Bekehrung des norwegischen Stammes", Munich, 1855, I, ii, 168) was carried on by Olaf Trygvesson (d. 1002) and Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olaf, d. 1030). Both were converted vikings, the former having been baptized at Andover, England, by Bishop Aelfeah of Winchester, and the latter at Rouen by Archbishop Robert (Bang, "Den norske Kirkes Historie under Katholicismen", Christiania, 1887, 44, 50). In 997 Olaf Trygvesson founded at the mouth of the River Nid the city of Nidaros, afterwards called Trondhjem, where he built a royal palace and a church; he laboured to spread the truths of Christianity in Norway, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland (Maurer, op. cit., I, iii, 462). King Olaf Haraldsson created an episcopal see at Nidaros, installing the monk Grimkill as bishop. Moreover, many English and German bishops and priests laboured in Norway, and by degrees Christianity softened the rough instincts of the people. The Norwegian bishops were at first dependent on the Archbishop of Hamburg - Bremen, and afterwards on the Archbishop of Lund, Primate of Scandinavia. As the Norwegians nevertheless wanted an archbishop of their own, Eugene III, resolving to create a metropolitan see at Trondhjem, sent thither as legate (1151) Cardinal Nicholas of Albano (Nicholas Breakspeare), afterwards Adrian IV. The legate installed Jon Birgerson, previously Bishop of Stavanger, as Archbishop of Trondhjem. The bishops of Oslo ( bishop 1073), Bergen (about 1060), Stavanger (1130), Hamar (1151), the Orkneys (1070), Iceland (Skalholt, 1056; Holar, 1105), and Greenland became suffragans.
Archbishop Birgerson was succeeded by Eystein (Beatus Augustinus, 1158-88), previously royal secretary and treasurer, a man of brilliant intellect, strong will, and deep piety (Daae, "Norges Helgener", Christiania, 1879, 170-6). Such a man was then needed to defend the liberty of the 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. It is true that he was able to return and that 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, Innocent III laid the king and his partisans under interdict ( Baluze "Epp. Innocentii III", Paris, 1682, I, i, 226, 227). King Haakon (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. A. Chr. 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" (op. cit., 109). 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, 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 specially remarkable zeal. Provincial councils were held, at which serious efforts were made to eliminate abuses and to encourage Christian education and morality (Bang, op. cit., 297).
Nidaros (Trondhjem), the metropolis of the ecclesiastical province, was also the capital of Norway. The residence of the kings until 1217, it remained until the troubles of the Reformation the heart and centre of the spiritual life of the country. There was situated the tomb of St. Olaf , and around the patron of Norway, "Rex perpetuus Norvegiae", 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 ("Adami gesta pontificum Hammaburgensium", Hanover, 1876, II, 82), in the cathedral of Nidaros, where the reliquary of St. Olaf rested near the altar. Built in Roman style by King Olaf Kyrre (d. 1093), the dome had been enlarged by Archbishop Eystein in Ogival style. It was finished only in 1248 by Archbishop Sigurd Sim. Although several times destroyed by fire, the ancient dome was restored each time until the storms of the Reformation. Then Archbishop Eric Walkendorf was exiled (1521), and his successor, Olaf Engelbertsen, who had been the instrument of the royal will in the introduction of Lutheranism, had also, as a partisan of Christian II, to fly from Christian III (1537). The valuable reliquaries of St. Olaf and St. Augustine (Eystein) were taken away, sent to Copenhagen, and melted. The bones of St. Olaf were buried in the cathedral, and the place forgotten. But when Norway regained its liberty and resumed it placed among independent nations (1814), the memory of the glory of its ancestors awoke. It was resolved to rebuild the ancient dome, and the cathedral stands once more renewed, although not in possession of the religion which created it. But new churches have arisen in the city of St. Olaf , bearing witness that the Catholic Faith still lives in Scandinavia in spite of all its trials.
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