Pilgrimage, Landscape, and Identity: Reconstucting Sacred Geographies in Norway

Book by Marion Grau on Oxford University Press, 2021.

Pilgrimage, Landscape, and Identity: Reconstructing Sacred Geographies in Norway explores the ritual geography of a pilgrimage system that arose around medieval saints in Norway, a country now being transformed by petroleum riches, neoliberalism, migration and global warming. What it means to be Norwegian and Christian in this changing context is constantly being renegotiated. The contemporary revival of pilgrimage to the burial site of St. Olav at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim is one site where this negotiation takes place. St. Olav played a major role in the unification of regions of Norway into a nation united by Christian law and faith, though most contemporary pilgrims have only a passing interest in the historical background of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage network comprises a wide variety of participants: individuals, casual groups, guided group pilgrimages, activist pilgrims raising awareness for causes such as climate change and hospice services, as well as increasing numbers of local and foreign pilgrims of various ages, government officials, pilgrimage activists, and pilgrimage priests supplied by the Church of Norway (Lutheran). Part of the study focuses on the Olavsfest, a cultural and music festival that engages the heritage of St. Olav and the Church of Norway through theater, music, lectures, and discussions, and theological and interreligious conversations. This festival offers an opportunity for creative and critical engagement with a difficult historical figure and his contested, violent heritage and constitutes one of the ways in which this pilgrimage network represents a critical Protestant tradition engaging a legacy through ritual creativity. 

This study maps how pilgrims, hosts, church officials, and government officials participate in reshaping narratives of landscape, sacrality, and pilgrimage as a symbol of life journey, nation, identity, Christianity, and Protestant reflections on the durability of medieval Catholic saints.