Enjoy medieval pilgrim routes. Combine history with nature’s beauty. Roam the sea and the rocks, the forests and the mountains.

Who was Olav?

St. Olav or Olav Haraldsson was born in Norway in the end of the first millennium in 995, when Christianity spread to Scandinavia. When he was young he took part in Viking expeditions in the Baltic Sea area, Great Britain and the North of France. In Normandy he met Christians, and Olav was baptised into Christianity in 1014.

When he was 20 years old, Olav returned to Norway. He became king of Norway in 1015. He wanted to unite Norway and make it a Christian country where legislation would protect even the weakest members of society. Olav was successful in building several churches and making several trips around Norway in order to spread Christianity elsewhere. Olav’s strong monarchical grip and strict legislation lead to discontent and enemies among the people. In 1028 he was forced to flee the country.

Olav travelled east and stayed in Novgorod for a year. He meant to return to power in Norway, but the trip from Novgorod to Norway ended up being his last. Olav died on the 29th of July in 1030 in the battle of Stiklestad north of Nidaros. Olav is buried close to the site where the Nidaros Cathedral was later rebuilt. Olav’s name day is celebrated July 29th in honour of St. Olav.

Olav becomes St. Olav

After Olav’s death special occurrences, that were seen as miracles, took place in Nidaros (Trondheim’s medieval name). There was a solar eclipse during a battle in Stiklestad, and it was interpreted as a sign of God’s rage. Rumours of healed wounds and miraculous healings spread and were associated with Olav’s death.

Olav became a sacred man. Even his prior enemies acknowledged him as a saint in 1031. Thereafter, pilgrims began been flowing into Nidaros. Up until the 17th century Nidaros was one of Northern Europe’s most important pilgrim sites. After the Lutheran Reformation pilgrimages were ended in the Nordic Countries.

St. Olav or Olav the Holy was one of the most important medieval Nordic saints, and the Olav cult was something that the Nordic countries had in common during the Middle Ages. In Sweden, there is an exceptionally high number of churches dedicated to Olav, but there are several St. Olav’s Churches in Finland and Åland as well, including ones in Nagu, Jomala and Njutånger. You can visit St. Olav’s church on your way from Turku to Hudiksvall.

Pilgrimages today

Since the 1980s there has been a rising interest in pilgrimages in Europe. The most famous example of pilgrimage sites is the Caminos de Santiago route in Spain, which attracts hundreds of thousands of hikers yearly. Pilgrimages to Trondheim in honour of St. Olav are also on the rise. In Sweden and Norway there are 5 000 kilometres worth of pilgrimage routes.

Pilgrims differ from regular travellers by choosing holy sites as their destinations and seeking spirituality from their travels. The word pilgrim derives from the Latin word peregrinus meaning a foreigner travelling to a holy place. True pilgrims travel along special pilgrimage routes that connect holy sites to the pilgrim’s own home town.

Not all pilgrims travel these routes for religious reasons. Instead, people seek quietness, spirituality and a simple active lifestyle. Routes offer their travellers nature experiences and historic stories.