Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim has often been referred to as the ancient coronation church of Norway, but the truth is that the first coronations in the history of this country took place in Bergen and later in Oslo. Indeed it was only in 1449 that a coronation first took place in Nidaros Cathedral, and that was caused by the extraordinary circumstances following the death of King Christoffer. The majority of the Council voted in favour of King Christian I of Denmark, while the minority, led by Archbishop Aslak Bolt, voted for King Karl Knutsson of Sweden, whom the Archbishop made sure to crown in his cathedral. The following year, when Karl Knutsson had been defeated, Christian was himself crowned in the same church.
In this year’s last issue of Historie (no 4 – 2012), which went on sale on 20 December, I explore how one in 1449-1450 tried to create the impression that Nidaros Cathedral was the place where kings of Norway should by tradition be crowned. This invention of tradition proved a great success and in the subsequent decades and centuries one may find many references to this being the tradition, for instance when Frederik I decided that his Norwegian coronation should take place in Konghelle, which caused the Council to object that the tradition was that it should happen in Trondheim.
When Norway regained its independence in 1814 the “founding fathers” set it down in writing in the Constitution that the King should be crowned in Nidaros Cathedral, a requirement which was only abolished in 1908.
The story of how Nidaros Cathedral became the coronation church of Norway, and in particular what happened in 1449-1450 and 1814, is a prime example of what historians call “the invention of tradition”. This term was coined by an eponymous book of 1983, in which the recently deceased Eric Hobsbawm defines “invented tradition” as “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past. […] The historic past into which the new tradition is inserted need not be lengthy, stretching back into the assumed mists of time”.
Such invented traditions arise “more frequently when a rapid transformation of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for which ‘old’ traditions had been designed, producing new ones to which they were not applicable, or when such old traditions and their institutional carriers and promulgators no longer prove sufficiently adaptable and flexible, or are otherwise eliminated: in short, when there are sufficiently large and rapid changes on the demand or supply side”, which was indeed the case in 1449-1450 as well as in 1814, both occasions where Norway found itself at major crossroads of its history.
This story was also the topic of a short article I wrote in Adresseavisen last January, while this is the longer, scholarly version, running to seventeen pages and fully referenced and documented.
As this is also my last article (and blogpost) of 2012 I take this opportunity to wish my readers a Happy New Year!