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The mystery of how Kyivan Rus shaped early Christianity in Norway

The Mystery of How Kyivan Rus Shaped Early Christianity in Norway
The mystery of how Kyivan Rus shaped early Christianity in Norway
Article by: Tamara Rozouvan
Edited by: Yuri Zoria
The third largest Norwegian city, Trondheim, is known for being linked to unruly Viking kings. However, little is known about their connection to Ukraine.

The life and legend of Olav Tryggvason are enshrined into Nordic literature. He ruled Norway from the year 995 to 1000 AD and is credited with founding the city of Trondheim. A monument dedicated to him is mounted on top of a pillar in the city center. But there is one, little-known fact that might surprise you; he spent much of his childhood in Kyiv.

The dynastic connections of the Kyivan Rus at Prince Yaroslav’s time. Image:

Olav fled persecution in Norway and spent much of his youth in the royal court of Volodymyr the Great, the Grand Prince and ruler of Kyivan Rus [Kyivan Prince who Christianized Rus back in 988 – Ed.].

Prof. Axel Christophersen, Department of Archeology and History of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology suggests:

“He could probably speak better Ukrainian than Norwegian because he lived there for maybe around eight years or so.”

Many historians believe Olav was the first king with strong ambitions to make Norway a Christian state.

“Where did he learn about Christianity? In Kyiv, of course; so this is very, very important,” adds Prof. Christophersen

For generations in Norway, the common belief was that western priests shaped the country’s early Christianity – but it wasn’t until after the Cold War that those beliefs began to shift, according to some archaeologists and historians.

Archeologist Erik Jondell, Director of Eidsvoll Museum explains:

“Scholars have known this for a long period, even Soviet scholars knew it but they weren’t allowed to work with it.”

It’s still debated today exactly how much influence Kyivan Rus had on forming Christianity in Norway.

“It’s obvious that this part of Norway must have been influenced by the Kyivan Rus culture because Olav Trygvason was raised there. Olaf Haraldsson or Olaf the Holy, the National King; he stayed there for a while and Herald the hard ruler even him had close contacts. On this royal level of society, there were close connections,” says Axel Christophersen.

Olav Tryggvason is not the only great Norwegian who had strong ties to the Ukrainian lands. The legendary King Olav Haraldsson, he is the country’s patron saint. He is known for conquering and consolidating Norway.

Olav Haraldsson was committed to the cult of Saint Clement, largely revered as a martyr, after supposedly being tied to an anchor and dropped into the Black Sea near Crimea during the reign of Emperor Trajan in the year 100.

Olav even built a church in Trondheim, dedicated to the saint. Yet, the exact location of it remained a mystery for centuries – until 2016 when its remains were excavated. King Olaf Haraldsson was first buried here. This site is important for Norwegian history, religion, and politics.

“Olaf Haraldson managed to unite Norway after he died during the battle. A year later he was made a national saint of Norway. And that was how the Norwegian state could be built,” Erik Jondell elucidates.

Stories constructed around sainthood were used to establish and stabilize power in the Viking Age, just as religious relics were. The future ruler of Kyivan Rus, Volodymyr’s son Yaroslav The Wise [his reign started only in 1019 – 19 years after the Olav’s death – Ed.] passed on a relic of Saint Clement to King Olav Trygvasson as a sign of their alliance, before the rule of Olaf Heraldsson. However, both Viking kings used the Saint Clement cult to consolidate their power.

Erik Jondell tells more on this link between Ukrainian and Norwegian history:

“Saint Clement relics were the sort of power that gave prince Volodymyr. He was a very eager missionary to christen the people of Ukraine and so were these two Norwegian kings. Saint Clement gave power to Volodymyr to do this christening work and they wanted to have the same power. As they were doing that at the same sort of enterprise in Norway.”

It’s hoped that this sort of archeological work will uncover further evidence of how Kyivan Rus influenced Christianity at the start of the second millennium in Norway.

Read more:

Edited by: Yuri Zoria
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