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

fredag 15. mai 2015

Saint Hallvard of Norway

Today, May 15, is the feast of St Hallvard of Norway, the patron saint of Oslo, and in this blogpost I want to give a brief presentation of one of the few Norwegian saints who were recognised as such by the official medieval church calendars.
The legend of St Hallvard as depicted in the coat of arms of Oslo Municipality
Image taken from Wikimedia

The story of St Hallvard has predominantly been transmitted to us from liturgical sources: the Breviarium Nidrosiense  (modern-day Trondheim) which was printed in 1519 (and later printed by Gustav Storm in Monumenta historica Norvegiæ, and a manuscript from Utrecht which was printed in Acta Sanctorum from 1680. In the latter work the feast is set to May 14, a mistake - or perhaps a local custom - that has been repeated in David Farmer's Oxford Dictionary of Saints. The Utrecht legend is a more expansive version, but both sources transmit a short, liturgically precise legend. Hallvard was venerated in the archbishopric of Nidaros, which included mainland Norway (including parts of modern-day Sweden) and the North-Atlantic islands and taxlands such as Iceland and Greenland. Hallvard was also venerated in Skara in modern-day Sweden and, as stated, in Utrecht. The cult of Hallvard seems to have been most fervent in Oslo, whose cathedral was and remains dedicated to him.
Nic Schiøll, St. Halvard, 1938-1945. Bronse. Oslo City Hall
Photo, Brigitte Stolpmann (from UiO-Wiki)

We have mostly just liturgical textual sources for the legend of St Hallvard. He is not mentioned in any of the Norwegian historiographies from the twelfth century, such as Theodoricus Monachus' Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium from c.1180, or the anonymous Historia Norwegie from roughly the same period. He is briefly mentioned in Adam of Bremen's History of the Church of Hamburg, but Adam's account gives no details about his legend beyond his status as a martyr, and the fact that he was killed by friends while protecting someone who was not a friend.

The story can be summarised very briefly. Hallvard (d.1043) was a young son of a nobleman from Husaby near Oslo. As he was crossing Drammenfjorden by boat, a woman called out to him and begged him to save her from a group of men who wanted to kill her. She was wrongfully accused of stealing, and Hallvard wanted to help her. Then the pursuers appeared on the scene and demanded that Hallvard hand her over to their justice. When the young man refused, the attackers shot him with arrows and tied a millstone around his neck to sink him in the fjord. His body later resurfaced and he became the centre of a local cult. Ten years later his body was exhumed and translated to the church of St Mary in Oslo.
Halvard and the maiden
Fresco by Alf Rolfsen, Oslo City Hall
Courtesy of


Adam of Bremen, Beretningen om Hamburg stift, erkebiskopenes bedrifter og øyrikene i Norden, translated into Norwegian by Bjørg Tosterud Danielsen and Anne Katrine Frihagen, Oslo, 1993
Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford, 2004

Gjerløw, Lilli (ed.), Antiphonarium Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae, Oslo, 1979

Gjerløw, Lilli (ed.), Ordo Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae, Oslo, 1968

Storm, Gustav, Monumenta historica Norvegiæ, 1880

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