Olav Haraldsson

St Olav

St Olav at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim
St Olav at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim

In 1014 Olav Haraldsson and his men helped king Ethelred II back to England from Normandy. The king was under great pressure from king Cnut and his Danish vikings. Olav helped Ethelred take back London from the Danes. This was when he tore down the great London Bridge.

Olav Haraldsson had joined a band of viking pirates at the age of 12. At first they spent several years in the Baltic, later in England. In 1011 they took Canterbury and killed the archbishop. At that time Olav was leading an army together with Torkjell the Tall. They were paid by the king in order not to attack the English.

One year (at least) Olav spent the winter as the guest of duke Richard of Normandy. Here he met mostly Christian people – the duke himself was an eager Christian – and Olav eventually let himself be baptized in Rouen.

His connection with Winchester was not as tight as that of Haakon Adelsteinsfostre and Olav Trygvason. In helping Ethelred he might have been no more than a mercenary. Still, Ethelred was a friend of a friend: duke Richard, brother of Ethelred’s queen Emma, and Olav had become a Christian by then. He might have genuinly wanted to help put a Christian king back on the throne in England.

Norway had been split between the powers that defeated Olav Trygvason at Svolder. Olav built up a power base gradually, starting where he was from, north of Oslo. He defeated the earl at Viken, and went to Nidaros, where he was named king by the lagting. From there he went to all the other tings and soon he was king in most of Norway.

The first lines of the Gulating law:

The first point in the laws is that we
shall bow down to the East and pray to
the White Christ for good harvests
and peace, and that we may keep our
land built up and have our land’s king
happy. May he be our friend and we his,
and may God be the friend of us all.

Only then did he begin his Christian mission. In 1023 there was a great church meeting at Moster. A new national law was passed, defining the relation between the church and the king, and turning Norway into a Christian nation.

Olav was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad 1030. He was canonized 1031.
Olav was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad 1030. He was canonized 1031.
One of the four bishops Olav had brought with him from England, Grimkjell, is usually credited with the thinking behind this law, as Olav had little experience in such matters. The name Grimkjell or Grimkil indicates Scandinavian roots, and the greatness of his work indicates a man of extraordinary learning and human understanding. He must have been educated, possibly born, in England. Most likely Grimkjell and the other three bishops came from Glastonbury and/or Winchester.