And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 26. januar 2015

For the Archbishop's Sins - a healing miracle of St Olaf concerning Archbishop Eystein Erlendsson

Today is the feast of Eystein Erlendsson, archbishop of Nidaros (modern-day Trondheim) from 1161 to 1188. Although he never achieved formal canonisation - despite petitions from the archsee - his saintly powers were acknowledged at a local church synod in 1229. Eystein was the second man to hold that office since the establishment of the Norwegian archsee in 1152/53, and his reign was a crucial era in the founding of a strong Norwegian ecclesiastical network that spanned from Northern Norway to Greenland until the Reformation. This establishment of the Norwegian church province can be seen perhaps most clearly in the cathedral which was completed and rebuilt in several phases throughout history, and which was likely meant to replace a wooden structure raised over the bones of St Olaf (d.1030), Norway's martyr-king and eventually patron saint.

Aside from the stone edifice embracing the holy bones of Olaf, Eystein was also a key figure in the establishment of a Norwegian ecclesiastical literature. He was the dedicatee of Theodoricus Monachus' Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium, written c.1180, and he oversaw the compilation of the hagiography for St Olaf which we today refer to as Passio et Miracula Beati Olavi. In this blogpost I will present one of the most famous episode, in which Eystein himself enters the miraculous narrative and becomes the interlocutor for his scribe.
Eystein Erlendsson holding the cathedral
Modern statue situated in the courtyard of the archepiscopal palace, Nidaros
Courtesy of Wikimedia

Having read all those accounts which antiquity has entrusted to us concerning the life and miracles of the blessed Óláfr, we deem it fitting that we, who have personally been enlightened by his widespread miracles in our own day, should also commit to the attention of future generations, in writing, those things which have been performed by miraculous powers, to his greater glory, as we have seen for ourselves or have learnt from the testimony of truthful men. Truly, as we are enjoined by the duty of charity to suffer with those in affliction so doubtless are we obliged to rejoice with those relieved from sickness who rejoice in the newfound Health. But since no one is closer to a man than the only son of his mother, then if we are bidden for charity's sake to praise the blessings of Health conferred upon others, how much more are we bound, first and foremost, to render praise with thanksgiving for those blessings which we know to have flowed abundantly for our own needs from the powers of the martyr, through the grace of God. And thus I, Eysteinn, was at one time carrying out my episcopal duties, by God's will, in the church of the blessed martyr when I was summoned by the master-builder to the top of a wall, to settle certain matters concerning the Construction. But the walkway, over which stones were carried, broke under the weight of the crowd that followed us and collapsed. I alone, for my sins, was thrown from that height, to teach me to be more careful of my life and duty, while the others clung to the scaffolding and hoists. My side Struck against the narrow edge of a mortar-trough, and the narrowness of the surface that broke my fall made the accident all the more dangerous. my people bore me away like one lifeless, and when after a time I recovered my senses, I was brought to my own bed, where I lay anguished and anxious, aggrieved by a twofold grief. For my broken ribs gave pain, but it pained me no less that I would be unable to attend the approaching ceremonies in honour of the martyr; for in three days it would be Saint Óláfr's day, attended by an influx of people form far and wide. Distressed by these troubles of body and soul, I turned in prayer to my patron, the blessed Óláfr, although doubting my own worthiness, nevertheless with full faith; and as experience shows, not forgetful of his own, he came to the aid of the one who called upon him. For when the festal day had dawned, and the people had as usual been summoned to the celebration of the mass by the sound of bells, I discussed with my attendants whether I ought to be carried to the church, since I was too weak to walk. They urged me to it, and I welcomed their advice, for my own inclination drew me on. At first I hardly expected to take part in the ceremonies of the mass, fearing that my strength would fail me, but when I entered the church, the pain abated somewhat, and when I had taken a little time to gather my strength and resolution, I dared to hope for greater things. Therefore I asked to be robed again, quickly, that I might appear with the clergy in the procession. When we had arrived at the place where the procession customarily halted for a sermon, I did not venture to preach, but I attempted, nevertheless to expound a little upon the Lord Pope's indulgence of sins and remission of penance. But when, in answer to my prayers, my strength grew even as I spoke, I drew out the exhortation in the usual - albeit unexpected - sermon. And I carried out the rites of mass and of the Whole ceremony, in such a way that the effort did not leave me fatigued, but rather the fatigue left me thoroughly refreshed, and, although the pain had not yet fully left me, my bones were nevertheless fully knit and perfect health was gradually to follow.
- Passio Olavi, translated by Devra Kunin (printed in Phelpstead 2001: 61-63)

St Olaf enthroned, trampling the dragon
Wooden sculpture from Austevold Church, c.1400
Courtesy of Wikimedia

The passage above is widely referred to in the scholarship on St Olaf, and it led the earliest scholars - above all Eiliv Skard who translated the hagiography into Norwegian - to believe that it was Eystein who had written or at least dictated the entire book. Recent scholarship, for instance by Inger Ekrem and Lars Boje Mortensen, has shown that the archbishop's personal interjection in the narrative is an anomaly rather than indicative of his omnipresence in the writing process. Most likely - according to Mortensen - the section on Olaf's miracles have been compiled during several years and were taken from the miracle records kept at the shrine itself. Furthermore, according to Inger Ekrem and Jon Gunnar Jørgensen, Passio Olavi has been composed in at least four stages, rather than being a uniform project penned by Eystein. Regardless of this mistake, brought on perhaps by a romantic quest for a single author which is a perennial scourge in medieval studies, Eystein's importance to the Ecclesiastical literature of medieval Norway can hardly be underestimated. In addition to the compilation of the Passio and the patronage of Theodoricus' history, he also very likely oversaw the composition of an office of St Olaf, and we know that he played an important part in the establishment of a liturgy which bound the province of Nidaros to the Network of Augustinian canons, as shown by Roman Hankeln. Through these literary and liturgical endeavours Eystein helped weave the archbishopric of Norway into the wider fabric of Latin Christendom, and thus he drew his province closer to Europe. Even though he no longer stands as the sole author of Passio Olavi, his legacy is impressive enough as it is.


Ekrem, Inger, “Om Passio Olavis tilblivelse og eventuelle forbindelse med Historia Norwegie, printed in Ekrem, Inger; Mortensen, Lars Boje; Skovgaard-Petersen, Karen, Olavslegenden og den latinske historieskrivning i 1100-tallets Norge, Museum Tusculanum Forlag, 2000: 108-56

Hankeln, Roman, "St. Olav's Augustine-Responsories: Contrafactum Technique and Political Message", printed in Hankeln, Roman (ed.), Political Plainchant? Music, Text and Historical Context of Medieval Saints' Offices, The Institute of Mediaeval Music, Ottawa, 2009: 171-99

Jørgensen, Jon Gunnar, “Passio Olavi og Snorre”, printed in Ekrem, Inger; Mortensen, Lars Boje; Skovgaard-Petersen, Karen, Olavslegenden og den latinske historieskrivning i 1100-tallets Norge, Museum Tusculanum Forlag, 2000: 157-69

Mortensen, Lars Boje, “Olav den helliges mirakler i det 12.årh.: streng tekstkontrol eller fri fabuleren?”, printed in Ekrem, Inger; Mortensen, Lars Boje; Skovgaard-Petersen, Karen, Olavslegenden og den latinske historieskrivning i 1100-tallets Norge, Museum Tusculanum Forlag, 2000: 89-107
Østrem, Eyolf, The Office of Saint Olav – A Study in Chant Transmission, Studia Musicologica Upsaliensia Nova Series 18, Uppsala, 2001

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