Sunday, August 28, 2016

Nidaros Cathedral. Facades of Saint Olaf's.

 Nidaros Cathedral is disquieting, an odd disappointment,
Until you find a good guide inside to explain the history that the brochures dance around.

Nidaros:  Old name for Trondheim

Something is wrong here, if someone expects to experience real Gothic. This fancy front at Saint Olaf's Cathedral at Trondheim is just plain flat. Its statuary in the neatly lined niches look botoxed. Where is the soaring inspiration, artistry lifting the soul to contemplate heaven, majesty and not just mass, etc. See 

So many of us want to see more of roots like that. Compare real Gothic masterpieces, like reconstructions of Cathedrals at Rouen, Notre Dame, Rheims, not just modern renovations. Do a search for Rouen facade for example.  Absorb the energy. Can you then believe in this flat-footed non-imitation? If there is inconsistency of structure, to what era does a building belong? Where modern sculptors were commissioned, and the work not even intended as copies of Gothic, for example, should that not be front and center in educating visitors.
  • Norway's own Gustav Vigeland 1869-1943, for example, contributed greatly, see  Which of the statues noted here are his?  Any?  Vigeland was a genius -- Oslo houses a park of his works. But his works tending to dominate a Cathedral and then the Cathedral touting itself as old Gothic or Romanesque is a disconnect. Tout it as a fine Cathedral with medieval elements, and all would be well.

 Facade, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway, Not medieval. Work began on this in 1818.

Inconsistency of structure. Investigate the issue here.  Is this really the largest, even second largest, medieval cathedral in Scandinavia? Perhaps.
  • The figure in red at the little open door (does that gray do-nothing main door even open?) will steer you to buy your ticket, as required, at the booth at stage right. At least that financial outlay motivates the tourist finally, and under protest, to join in a guided tour. Get money's worth after a bad beginning.
  •  Mix and match by following this guided group and another, until you find one that is giving more than ABC in historical architecture. 
  • Then find that original impressions were right: This building,, through disasters and changes, has become an imagined different construction, with a facade that never was.
Inconsistency of structure.

1.  The "Gothic" facade is not authentic anything. It was created out of no facade at all in 1818.

Nidaros Cathedral is the final resting place of any remaining remains of Saint Olaf, killed in battle in 1030 at Stiklestad, in an unsuccessful attempt to regain his throne from Danish King Knut. Olaf's body ultimately was brought here, and he was canonized in 1031, based on alleged miracles near his body, but certainly not for leading a life of word and example. His efforts to Christianize Norway were brutal and politically motivated. See Journal of the History Students at San Francisco State University 2008 vol XVII, article by Rachael Kerrigan, Olaf Haraldsson’s Conversion of Norway and The Presence of Norman Power in Northern Europe at,_2008/kerrigan_r.pdf/ Vet it.  And give credit for research on topics that mainstream researchers may shunt aside.

A commemorative church was built beginning 1070, where the current transept is. Look behind the facade flat point to see a short steeple behind. There. Pilgrims were already flocking.

Yet, the exact whereabouts of the body after 1329 or so then was lost beneath the stones with years of disasters and destruction and neglect and bad rebuilding.  Even the silver casket housing the remains had been melted down and was found in England. Think centuries of fires, collapses, Black Death disruptions to construction, and inauthentic substitutions passing for the real. Where there remains no evidence of the original Romanesque or Gothic elements in facades, at least acknowledge that.

With the roster of disasters, there was no facade left at all by 1818.  See The Stones of Nidaros, 1997, at pp. 68 ff. doctoral thesis by Per Storemyr, Dept. of Architectural History, Norwegian Univ. Science and Technology, Trondheim. Download that site for photos and text. Find that the entire main entry facade is fake in the sense of not being what it is touted to be -- not medieval; and not even original. The 19th century architects copied English Cathedrals. The Norse did rule parts of the British Isles, but what would medieval Norwegians have put here? This looks like a flattened model. Statues were added, not because they recreated the Gothic or Romanesque, but as a result of an art contest in 1908 or so. And they look it, modern, that is.  Gustav Vigeland, great 20th Century sculptor, provided many. And Edwardian and sentimental they are.

This pancaked facade, see Stones of Nidaros, houses rows of statues and theme design is a result of 20th Century architectural competitions 1908 and 1928, see p. 100.  They were based on English cathedrals, Wells Cathedral and Wells Cathedral -- not Scandinavian at all. Only 5 of the upper levels of statues are copies of medieval statues -- all the rest look oddly new.
  • In summary, the original structures began to fail in the early 1300's, when The Black Death decimated populations and builders, there were fires, and political and religious conflict. Then came reconstructions, deconstructions, destructions, all as laid out (worth the download for text and photos) at the Stones of Nidaros site.  More disasters, not necessarily theological but in terms of effect on the building:  Reformation and following, see FN 1.
This building, then, is not the largest medieval structure in Scandinavia. See the often-repeated claim at, e.g.,  Nidaros is probably the northernmost cathedral, even the largest northernmost cathedral, but it is not the largest "medieval."   The peculiar forced symmetry gives it away. As a saving grace, there are some excellent guides inside to counter the platitudes of the tourist information brochures online and in the shop.

2.  Who are these facade figures.  Are they Gothic, or contemporary figures to the Christianization of Scandinavia -- not Gothic at all. Does that matter? Not if that information is openly provided at the outset at the site, but we found no clue until we pursued a really good guide inside, who was willing to respond in detail with questions.

These robed ones won their places on the facade as a result of a 1908 art contest.  See the Stones of Nidaros. Was Gustav Vigeland part of those contests?  Or were his commissions separate.  Not clear.

There are other disjoint elements. Many are anachronistic, in that they reside on a Gothic facade although many were born after that era, or achieved status not as Biblical or Gospel characters, but in Christianizing northern Europe and Scandinavia, many contemporaries of the man sainted under these stones, Olaf himself. Set aside the lack of spark of life, no aging -- no chips, no weathering, even the Reformation could have resulted (if these were authentic) in a bashing of saints' faces.  If they do not know what was there before that photo in 1818, why not keep it as it was in 1818. See Stones of Nidaros.

Anachronisms at Nidaros: Suppose that, at Rheims, or Rouen, somebody snuck a statue of Joan into the real Gothic facades there. Or even Saint Francis.

2.1  Saint Sigfrid of Sweden on the Nidaros facade

Saint Sigfrid was a Benedictine monk, made the patron saint of Sweden, second only to Ansgar, see, as an Apostle to the North. He began his conversions in about 830, the effort failed, and his nephews who worked with him and in his absence (the priest Unaman, the deacon Sunaman, and Wiaman, the subdeacon), were ultimately killed by "idolatrous rebels" and their heads boxed and cast into a pond; and the bodies buried elsewhere.  The heads were retrieved, venerated, and the perpetrators caught. The king would have killed the guilty parties, but Sigfrid pled for their lives and a fine to be imposed instead.  Early anti-capital punishment. See  The place of the church, shown at Bartleby as Wexiow, is not a misspelling of Wexford or some such, but refers instead to an early spelling of Vaxjo --pronounced something like Wa-(gutteral-epiglottal rattle) ch-augh. Not Vax Joe. You will get nowhere with that.

2.2.   Pilgrim on the Nidaros facade, but one of mixed messages.  Anachronistic hat?

The wardrobe on this Pilgrim is unsettling. The walking stick is fine, but the hat is worth another look. Why would a northern pilgrim need a broad-brimmed sunshade hat?  Or perhaps they did.  In mainstream Europe, pilgrimage routes often headed to the burial place of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Those pilgrims were known for their broad-brimmed sunshade hats, and carrying a scallop shell.  Did or would styles cross so many miles and bodies of water so that Norse pilgrims looked like the mainland Europeans? Or is this an anachronism, element of one era plunked into another where it does not really belong.

The faithful also included persons unable to go on crusade, or who were directed to go to Saint Olaf's as penance. See, e.g.,

2.3  Adam and Eve, in full seduction, should I or shouldn't I, oh, dear, I am so undecided, I'll just let her go ahead, she's the thinking one anyway, and see how it turns out when I can deny, deny, deny, yes, that's the ticket....

 This Adam and Eve have just stepped out of an ad for a health club, and a teensy bit erotic, ja? Aryan, ja?

2.4  Central doorway pointed arch, pointy like a V, faking a last judgment.

This kind of V over an entry is often affixed to ranch-style and other flat-fronted ordinary houses seeking a more substantial appearance, also good as a protection against weather. 

2.5  A king carrying his head: Is this Erik IX of Sweden? This one is wearing a mitre, however, not a mere crown. Vincent, Bishop of Skara? Peter, Bishop of Westeras? Many have their heads tucked underneath their arms. Those, however, are Reformation era Sweden.  Why on a Gothic facade? These references spoil the historic connection, now found to be zip.

2.6  Nidaros facade, figure carrying encircled cross, what is on his head? Templar reference? Or Celtic?

Some figures are elusive.  And as plastic, silly-putty looking, as the rest.  Nidaros, steer your tourists to the side door, the transept, and pull a large curtain over this badly imagined facade, to be shown annually on a date to be determined.

3.  Role of authenticity in landmarks. Does any gap between fact and differing presentation matter? In politics, religion, or any human relationships?  Or is it rule of tough for the tourist or other purchaser of information who may not know what is really being sold. Tourists ooh and ah at this facade. But it is not what they are sold.

So, yes. Authenticity matters, and if it is not available, say so. This tourist would prefer overt acknowledgement in the brochures and commonly accessible sites that there are vast reaches of this structure that are not medieval, not original, and even made up.  And tell us some truth about Olaf.  The conversion facts do not appear to be disputed, just inconvenient for sainthood status.

Why is Olaf II a saint?  Olaf II was a political being, killed in battle not at Trondheim, but at nearby Stiklestad trying to regain his throne against King Canute of Denmark in 1030, body secretly brought here by circuitous route. He was canonized fast under the rationale of his efforts to Christianize Norway, although his methods were decidedly brutal during his first reign -- those who refused to convert were driven from the land, or maimed by having hands or feet cut off, or eyes gouged, or hanged or decapitated.  See p.4 at,_2008/kerrigan_r.pdf   That kind of force is hardly saintly.  He was unsuccessful in his conversion efforts in his lifetime; and construction here began in 1070. Sainthood not by what is done in life, but the claim of miracles by the body after. Some of those are alleged at

FN 1

2.  Roster of Disasters, 1537 ff  The criteria is not theological; but the effect on the building site.  The references here are to the Stones of Nidaros site

 In 1537 came the Reformation, and the diminution of the now-heavily damaged, neglected site, to a mere parish church.

In 1633, enter the Baroque influences, with new money from an expanded congregational base in Trondheim. Up went a spire of some 69 meters -- the current one (the original collapsed, another disaster, onto the north transept,  facade wing) is only 49 meters, never rebuilt.

In 1708-1719 -- More fires.  And the thousand people buried under the floors began to stink and cause unhealthy conditions, see p. 72.  (The old graves were dug out and tidied 1870's).

1818 --  There was no facade at all by this year, when the church was designated the coronation church for Norway now in a loose connection with Sweden (until 1905) but free of Denmark.. See p. 90. Then restoration squabbles delayed progress, leading to a last big effort in 1869.  From 1869-1969, big projects and without architectural evidence to base it on, so one Architect Schirmer used his on imagination. See p. 92. So he engaged in demolition and rebuilding.  He was sacked, and a new architect hired, with the fortuitous name of Christian Christie.

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