This morning the King, the Speaker of Parliament and other notables were present at mass in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, where Helga Haugland Byfuglien was installed in the new position as Senior Bishop of the Church of Norway, making her in effect (although not in title) the first archbishop in centuries. Indeed this is a doubly historic day as the creation of this new position for the Primate of the Church again makes Trondheim the spiritual capital of Norway.
The last actual Archbishop of Norway was Olav Engelbrektsson, who fled the country at the time of the Reformation in 1536-1537, at which time Norway also lost its status as an independent realm. Subsequently there have been no archbishops, but after Norway regained its independence in 1814 a practice was established, through decisions of 1817 and 1820, whereby the Bishop of Oslo was “primus inter pares” among the bishops.
This arrangement lasted until 1998, since which date the bishops have elected one among their number to be Primate for four years at a time. Eventually it was felt that it was difficult to combine the role of Primate with a bishopric and it was therefore decided to create a twelfth bishop who would be Primate on a permanent basis and not hold any bishopric. On 25 March this year Helga Haugland Byfuglien, until then Bishop of Borg, was appointed to the position by the King in Council.
Parliament furthermore decided, after some political wrangling, that this Senior Bishop should be located in Trondheim. Thus Byfuglien caused quite an outcry when she recently stated her intention only to visit Trondheim when necessary and spend most of her time in Oslo. An apartment has now been arranged for her within walking distance of Nidaros Cathedral and the mediaeval Archbishop’s Palace, where her office will be.
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