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Nidaros was the old name of Trondheim ("Trondhjem" was the Dano-Norwegian spelling), a city of Norway, in the Middle Ages. Nidaros was Northern Europe's most important Christian pilgrimage site during this time, the pilgrims' goal being the Christ Church, also known as the Nidaros Cathedral, established as the seat of the archdiocese of all Norway in 1152 by Nicholas Breakspeare, who later became the only English pope as Adrian IV. The archdiocese thus broke away from the newly established archbishopric of Scandinavia, situated in Lund, Skåne (then a part of the Danish realm) since 1103. Nidaros town owed its name to the location at the mouth of the river Nid (Nidelva) (os = river mouth).

Nidaros is also the name of the Medieval Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of Norway, which had suffragans in present-day Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Orkneys, Hebrides and the Isle of Man.

After the Catholic Archdiocese was abolished by Christian III of Denmark as a result of the Protestant Reformation in 1537, a Lutheran superintendenture, now diocese, with the name of Nidaros was erected in its place.

The city of Trondhjem actually changed its name back to Nidaros on January 1, 1930. After a fierce campaign among the citizens against the new name, the Norwegian Parliament, mainly due to Ivar Lykke, changed its name to Trondheim on March 6, 1931.

Recently the pilgrimage route to Nidaros Cathedral, the site of Saint Olav's tomb, has been re-instated. Following the Norwegian spelling the route is known as Saint Olav's Way. The main route, which is approximately 640 km long, starts in Oslo in the ruins of the Old City (Gamlebyen) and heads North, along the lake Mjøsa, up the valley Gudbrandsdal, over Dovrefjell and down the valley Oppdal to end at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. There is a Pilgrim's Office in Oslo which gives advice to pilgrims, and a Pilgrim Centre in Trondheim, under the aegis of the Cathedral, which awards certificates to successful pilgrims upon the completion of their journey.

Pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Archbishopric

In Norway it was the kings who introduced Christianity, which first became known to the people during their martial expeditions. The work of Christianization begun by Haakon the Good (d: 981) (Maurer, "Die Bekehrung des norwegischen Stammes", Munich, 1855, I, ii, 168) was carried on by Olaf Trygvesson (d. 1000) and Saint Olaf Haraldsson (Olaf, d. 1030). Both were converted Vikings, the former having been baptized at Andover, England, by Bishop Aelfeah of Winchester (England), and the latter at Rouen (Normandy) by Archbishop Robert (Bang, "Den norske Kirkes Historie under Katholicismen", Christiania, 1887, 44, 50).

In 997 Olaf Trygvesson founded at the mouth of the River Nid the city of Nidaros, afterwards called Trondhjem, where he built a royal palace and a church; he laboured to spread Christianity in Norway, Orkney, Shetland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland (Maurer, op. cit., I, iii, 462).

King Olaf Haraldsson created an episcopal see at Nidaros, installing the monk Grimkill as bishop. Many English and German bishops and priests laboured in Norway. The Norwegian bishops were at first dependent on the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, and from 1103 on the Archbishop of Lund, then Primate of Scandinavia.

As the Norwegians nevertheless wanted an archbishop of their own, Pope Eugene III, resolving to create a metropolitan see at Trondhjem, sent thither as papal legate in 1151 Cardinal Nicholas of Albano (Nicholas Breakspear), afterwards Pope Adrian IV. The legate installed Jon Birgerson, previously Bishop of Stavanger, as the first Archbishop of Trondhjem. The bishops of Oslo (bishop 1073), Bergen (about 1060), Stavanger (1130), Hamar (1151), Orkney (1070), Iceland (sees of Skálholt, 1056 and Hólar, 1105) and Garđar (Greenland) became suffragans.

Archbishop Jon Birgerson was succeeded by Eystein (Beatus Augustinus, 1158–88), previously royal secretary and treasurer, a man of brilliant intellect, strong will and deep piety (Daae, "Norges Helgener", Christiania, 1879, 170-6). Such a man was then needed to defend the liberty of the Catholic Church against the encroachments of King Sverre, who wished to make the Church a mere tool of the temporal power. The archbishop was compelled to flee from Norway to England until he was able to return, and a sort of reconciliation took place later between him and the king. But on Eystein's death Sverre renewed his attacks, and Archbishop Eric had to leave the country and take refuge with Archbishop Absalon of Lund. At last, when Sverre attacked the papal legate, Pope Innocent III laid the king and his partisans under interdict (Baluze, "Epp. Innocentii III", Paris, 1682, I, i, 226, 227).

King Håkon III Sverresson (1202), son and successor of Sverre, hastened to make peace with the Church, whose liberty had been preserved by the unflinching attitude of the pope and his archbishops. What would have happened, asks the Protestant ecclesiastical historian of Norway, Dr. A. Chr. Bang, "if the Church, deprived of all liberty, had become the submissive slave of absolute royalty? What influence would it have exercised at a time when its chief mission was to act as the educator of the people and as the necessary counterpoise to defend the liberty of the people against the brutal whims of the secular lords? And what would have happened when a century later royalty left the country? After that time the Church was in reality the sole centre about which was grouped the whole national life of our country" (op. cit., 109).

To regulate ecclesiastical affairs, which had suffered during the struggles with Sverre, Innocent IV in 1247 sent Cardinal William of Sabina as legate to Norway. He intervened against certain encroachments on the part of the bishops, reformed various abuses, and abolished the ordeal by hot iron. Owing in great measure to the papal legates, Norway became more closely linked with the supreme head of Christendom at Rome. Secular priests, as well as Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Dominicans and Franciscans worked together for the prosperity of the Church. Archbishops Eilif Kortin (d. 1332), Paul Baardson (d. 1346) and Arne Vade (d. 1349) showed especially remarkable zeal. Provincial councils were held, at which serious efforts were made to eliminate abuses and to encourage Christian education and morality (Bang, op. cit., 297).

Nidaros (modern Trondheim) remained until the troubles of the Reformation the heart and centre of the spiritual life of the country.

There at Nidaros was situated the tomb of St. Olaf, and around the patron of Norway, Rex perpetuus Norvegiae "Perpetual king of Norway", the national and ecclesiastical life of the country was centred. Pilgrims flocked from all quarters to the tomb. The feast of St. Olaf on 29 July was a day or reunion for "all the nations of the Northern seas, Norwegians, Swedes, Goths, Cimbrians, Danes and Slavs", to quote an old chronicler ("Adami gesta pontificum Hammaburgensium", Hanover, 1876, II, 82), in the cathedral of Nidaros, where the reliquary of St. Olaf rested near the altar. Built in the Romanesque style by King Olaf Kyrre (d. 1093), the cathedral had been enlarged by Archbishop Eystein in Ogival style. It was finished only in 1248 by Archbishop Sigurd Sim. Although several times damaged by fire, the ancient cathedral was restored each time until the storms of the Reformation.

Archbishop Erik Valkendorf was exiled in 1521 and his successor, Olaf Engelbrektsson, who had been the instrument of the royal will in the introduction of Lutheranism, had also, as a partisan of king Christian II of Denmark and Norway, to fly from the threat of Christian III (1537). The valuable reliquaries of St. Olaf and St. Augustine (Eystein) were taken away to the Danish capital Copenhagen and melted down. The bones of St. Olaf were buried in the cathedral, and the place left unmarked. Tradition holds that this is so that no future despot can ever find them and steal them again. In the early 19th century, when Norway regained self-rule as a separate Kingdom in a union with Sweden in 1814, a period of national romaticism was ushered in, in which much attention was paid to the remains of the independent medieval kingdom. It was resolved to restore the ancient cathedral of Nidaros. Now it stands once more completed as the largest cathedral in Northern Europe.

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