Pilgrimages keep gaining popularity

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Crown Prince Haakon’s official re-opening of Norway’s historic pilgrim trail from Oslo to the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. More pilgrims than ever are hiking at least parts of the 643-kilometer trail, with 70 percent of them coming from abroad.

The pilgrim trails are marked by this characterisic insignia, like here on one of the most popular portions of the route over the Dovre Mountains. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

A group of high-profile Norwegians including two government ministers set off from Oslo this week, bound for the annual events in Trondheim that celebrate Olsok on July 29. It marks the day when Olav Haraldsson was killed in the battle at Stiklestad in 1030, when he sought to unify Norway as a Christian nation. His body was carried to Trondheim and buried there, later setting off unexplained phenomena and miracles around his grave that started drawing pilgrims from all over Europe to Trondheim. Olav Haraldsson became St Olav, and the adulation around him eventually led to construction of Scandinavia’s only cathedral from the Middle Ages.

Olsok festivities were revitalized in connection with 900th anniversary of Olav Haraldsson’s death in 1930. In recent years there’s been a revival of interest in making pilgrimages to Nidaros, also along other trails leading to the cathedral. Members of the royal family have hiked over the Dovre Mountains to Trondheim and the government has been funding improvements to the marked trails and developing services along them.

“It’s become enormously popular to wander along the trail,” Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland told newspaper Aftenposten as she and fellow government minister Jan Tore Sanner walked towards other Medieval churches on the main trail through Hadeland, north of Oslo. “Just the portion we’re walking had a 46 percent increase in the number of pilgrims on it in 2016.”

The historic pilgrim trails to Nidaros later evolved into the main transport route between Oslo and Trondheim. Now that’s been replaced by highways and train lines, allowing pilgrims and ordinary hikers to wander the trails in solitude. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

That’s when her ministry took over responsibility for all seven pilgrim trails in Norway, called The St Olav Ways and running through the valleys of Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen, from Selånger in Sweden west to Trondheim, and from as far south as Halden and Sarpsborg, and north of Trondheim from  Gløshaugen. Helleland said the government wants to invest in pilgrim trails as an important part of Norway’s cultural tourism. She thinks development of overnight accommodation and serving places along the way will help preserve an important part of Norway’s cultural heritage.

“With 70 percent of the pilgrims coming from abroad, it has great value to serve them traditional Norwegian food and show them the beautiful Norwegian outdoors,” Helleland said. Norwegians made up 29 percent of last year’s registered pilgrims, with Germans making up 36 percent and the rest coming from the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy and the Czech Republic. Nearly 45 percent of registered pilgrims, whose numbers have increased from just 15 in 2010 to nearly 400 last year, are aged 50 to 69.

The group walking parts of the main trail from Oslo with the two ministers this week include former professional football player Jan Åge Fjørtoft, now a member of the Pilgrims’ Resource Group; Anita Krohn Traaseth, director of Innovation Norway; Erling Kagge, a publisher best known for his various polar and mountain-climbing expeditions; Stefano Dominioni, director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes, and the dean of the Nidaros Cathedral, Ragnhild Jepsen among other cultural and business leaders.

Some of the accommodation on offer along the trails can be quite nice, like here at the historic inn at Kongsvold, now operating as a hotel with fine dining. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“It’s wonderful to get out in the nature in this manner,” Sanner told Aftenposten while walking the trail in the hills of Hadeland. “For me, it’s mostly about finding an inner peace and the silence you don’t find so many other places.” That’s especially true of the section over Dovre, known for its wide open mountain plateaus. The trail that begins in downtown Oslo, at the site of its first settlements in the capital’s Gamlebyen district, evolved into the main transport route between Oslo and Trondheim that long since has been replaced by the E6 highway and the Dovrebanen train line.

Neither Helleland nor Sanner and their entourage were hiking the entire route this week. They were driven up to Hadeland and then walked towards the historic churches at Granavollen, where there was an afternoon seminar at a local inn. On Wednesday they traveled on to Dovre, around a four-hour drive while walking would take many days. They planned an evening walk while in Dovre up to the vista point towards the mountain known as Snøhetta, then on to Trondheim Thursday for another seminar on multi-faith issues. Trondheim’s annual Olavsfestdagene was set to open on Friday.

For more information on the pilgrim trails to Trondheim, click here (external link).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund