Lindisfarne will be forever known as the place where the Vikings made their first raid on the British Isles. For about a century the raids continued, but steadily the Scandinavians began to stay, settle, intermarry with the local people and become Christians, under the influence of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon believers here. Many parts of Wales, Ireland and Scotland came under Scandinavian rule, and for a large part of the 11th century the King of Denmark ruled Norway, Iceland and the ‘Danelaw’ area of northern and eastern England. As early as the late 9th century Harald Fairhair, the first king to unite the coastal areas of Norway, had invited monks from York to take the Christian message to his lands; around the Hardanger Fjord they also trained people in the art of fruit-growing.
Harald’s descendant, Olav Haraldsson, became a Viking raider in his youth, before spending one winter in Normandy, where he visited Duke Richard II, grandfather of William the Conqueror. This region had been conquered by the Norsemen in 881. Richard was an ardent Christian and Normandy had been converted to Christianity. Here, in 1010, Olav saw the error of his ways and was baptised in Rouen. He determined to make amends for his errors. In 1013 he came to England to fight the Danes, but at the same time learned more about the Christian faith.
In 1015 Olav succeeded to the throne of Norway as Olav II and returned home. He believed God had called him to unite Norway and bring it under the rule of Christ. Within a few years he brought stability to the land. Soon after his return he requested missionaries from England, Normandy and Germany to spread Christianity throughout the country. Olav and his missionaries succeeded in this and Olav himself established the first codification of the faith in 1024, laying a legal basis for the Church in Norway.
Olav made peace with the King of Sweden, marrying one of his daughters, Astrid. Their daughter, through her marriage to the Duke of Saxony, became the ancestor of many royal lines, including the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the royal line of Queen Victoria. More recently Maud of Wales, daughter of King Edward VII, became the mother of Olav V, King of Norway from 1957 to 1991. Thus he and his son, Harald V, the present King of Norway, are descended from Olav.
Olav’s rule did not have universal approval, however, and in 1029 he was driven into exile in Russia. On the way he spent some time in Sweden, where according to local legend he baptised many people. King Canute of Denmark and England took control of Norway through a puppet king, but in 1030 he was lost at sea and Olav seized the opportunity to try to gain his kingdom back, but he died at the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29th.
Among the bishops Olav brought from England was Grimkell. When miracles began to happen at Olav’s tomb, Grimkell declared him to be a saint on August 3rd 1031. Four years later Olav’s son Magnus took the throne and set about encouraging the veneration of his father. His shrine in Trondheim became the foundation of Nidaros Cathedral. Grimkell later returned to England as Bishop of Selsey. This is probably why the earliest traces of the veneration of St. Olav are found in England, where his name is traditionally spelled Olave. An office for St. Olav is part of the ‘Leofric Collector’ of about 1050, bequeathed by Bishop Leofric to Exeter Cathedral. Several churches in England, the Isle of Man and Ireland have been dedicated to Olav. Today he is referred to as ‘Holy Olav’ and is the patron saint of Norway and the Færoe Isles.
Teach us, Lord, to bring all things under the rule of Christ, Your Son, striving to bring unity, reconciliation and peace wherever we are able. May Your wonders be seen in our day as they were in days gone by. Amen.