Friday, 3 July 2009

Lost treasures: St Hallvard’s Cathedral, Oslo

St Hallvard’s Cathedral was the main church of medieval Oslo. It was situated at the highest point in the town, which made it a towering presence in the townscape. The cathedral was begun around 1070, probably by King Olav Kyrre, and by 1130 work had come so far that King Sigurd the Crusader could be buried in the south wall of the chancel.
A Romanesque basilica, it had two inner colonnades and the relics of St Hallvard, patron saint of Oslo, were placed in a casket on the high altar. In the mid-13th century a chancel in the Gothic style, the same length as the existing nave, was added.
From the mid-16th century St Hallvard was the only “operating” church in Oslo, But in the early 17th century King Christian IV moved the city, renamed Christiania in his honour, further west and a new cathedral, the Church of Holy Trinity, was built at Christiania Square. When this was inaugurated in 1639, St Hallvard lost its statues as the cathedral of Oslo and until 1658 it was used as a church for Catholic sailors. The great bell from St Hallvard is said to have been moved to the Church of Holy Trinity and from there to the present Cathedral of Oslo.
After 1658 the abandoned church was left to the forces of nature and time and in 1667 it was decided to demolish it and use the stone for works at Akershus Castle. As can be seen in the first two pictures, today only ruins are left of the former cathedral of Oslo. The third picture shows a model of what St Hallvard’s Cathedral most likely looked like – in front is the Bishop’s Castle, now also long gone. Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1865, 1879 and in 1921.
The skull of King Sigurd was found in the walls of the ruined cathedral in 1656 and taken to Denmark. It was returned to Norway in 1867 and in 1957 it was laid to rest in the crypt at Akershus Castle, opposite the mausoleum of the present royal family.

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