Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Avaldsnes. St. Olaf's. King Hakon's Church Relies on Mary's Needle

 St. Olav's Church, St. Olaf's Church, Avaldsnes, Norway

King Hakon Hakonsson built a stone church to honor St. Olaf in the 13th Century, on the site of an earlier structure, a chapel that was probably wooden, and built by King Olaf Tryggvason in about 1000.  The earlier Tryggvason structure, however, could not be related to Saint Olaf, as the Hakon church is named, because Saint Olaf did not die until 1030, and was not even born until about 995.  To whom did Tryggvason dedicate his structure?

Avaldsnes.  This area name, from Ogvaldsnes, derives from King Augvald, see Legend of King Augvald. It  had long been a seat of power for Vikings, with an island now just a lovely footbridge away, offering a reconstructed village and opportunities to get lost.  Avaldsnes was the site also of one of a series of Royal Farms, manor farm estates, where the king (Harald Fairhair as originator here)  could reside while in the area, and claim hospitality from the local people, as well as enjoy some revenue.  See Historical Dictionary of Norway, google book. Author:  Jan Sjavik.

The church itself has an ordinary appearance, like others in structure from the 12th Century, but look closer.

Virgin Mary's Needle, St. Olav's Church, Avaldsnes NO

 There is a huge obelisk, a standing stone some 23-24 feet high aboveground, leaning at the north side of the church itself.  How far does it extend underground?  Noone knows yet.

 It was common practice to establish a Christian structure to overpower a previous indigenous religious site, so the juxtaposition is not unusual.  Unusual, however, are the stories:  One story, a post-Christian made-to-order explanation for the tall, tilting obelisk here, informs us of this larger-than life event. One day, in heaven, the Virgin Mary *  dropped her sewing needle (whose clothes was she repairing there in heaven? were roles so defined?) and the needle fell right here. See Visit Haugesund at http://www.visithaugesund.no/en/Product/?TLp=39107  Behold. Mary's Needle.
  • Another story, more related to the culture and transitions at the time from indigenous gods to this new rule-bound one from mainland Europe, holds that the stone is a petrified magician who fell off the roof when Olaf Tryggvason was building the church, and the falling corresponded to Olaf's learning that the name of the magician was Sigge. Was there a royal push? See Legendary Sagas of the Northland, translated by George Hardman.  
  • Sigge.  Who?  Sigge Fridulfson is a figure tied in lore to early migrations from the Caucasus, say some, who became king of Sweden-Norway in the 5th Century; and who is, say others, an incarnation of Odin if not Odin himself.  
  • An angle can be tied from this Norse saga history,  clues at p 206-07, reiterating events of King Olaf Tryggvason who turned from the old gods and began forcing conversions to institutional Christianity, Westminster Review Vols/ 42-43, 1845, another google book. 
  • In that context, no wonder suddenly Odin, in the form of Sigge Fridulfson, magically appears. To protest? Was the magician an incarnation of the 5th Century story of Sigge Fridulfson, Odin, see references at pp. 190-92, 194-95, 201, 287-88.  Either way, Tryggvason got rid of the competition.

The Needle then began to lean.  Further legend held that the needle will touch the church wall on Judgment Day; or that the touching will trigger Judgment Day.

Alarmed at the Needle touching the wall on his watch, the priest (who and when?) simply went out and got the guys to chop off the top. There are chisel marks up there. Has it touched yet, even with the top lopped off? http://www.stavangertravel.com/trip/st-olavs-church-avaldsnes.cfm

No, it has not touched yet.  It moves a few millimeters every 10 years. The Needle remains upended and leaning over, see http://visitkarmoy.no/en/kulturattraksjoner/avaldsnes-norges-eldste-kongesete/ After the lopping, it stopped leaning further, however, and there is remains a space between Mary's Needle and the wall.

The church used to sport several standing stones like these, and the site still shows burial mounds that signify an ancient sacred place. A later priest in the 19th Century, I recall being told. took umbrage that a huge burial mound in particular overshadowed the entry view impact of the Christian church, and had it leveled right down.

Saint Olaf's Church, burial mound leveled, Avaldsnes, Norway
The site is discomfitingly flat.  It nestles nowhere. Did the removers of the old burial mound find anything?  That was not their intent.  The intent was to obliterate, and so they did. 

There are some 17 Olaf-dedicated churches remaining, see google book, edited by Stein Thue, On the Pilgrim Way to Trondheim


 Context footnote:

1.  Where are we on geneologies?

With unfamiliar geneologies, medieval builders of churches and heads that are crowned blur.  Meet more Hakons and Haralds.  King Hakon Hakonsson, 1217-1263, built a church at this traditional royal seat of Vikings, to honor Olaf Haraldsson, King Olaf II, Norway's patron St. Olaf  995-1030. Olaf II, a/k/a Olaf the Fat, had been the son of a petty king in the area, Harald Grenske, and Grenske was by some sagas a grandson of Harald Fairhair.

  • Hakon. King Hakon has a shaky geneology as a grandson of Sverre Sigurdsson, 1184-1202,  who led rebels successfully against Magnus Erlingsson, see http://norwayroadways.blogspot.com/2014/05/etne-favorite-son-king-magnus-v-magnus.html; ruled for a very long time, but ran afoul of official church hereditary requirements (he wanted to believe that he really was the son of King Sigurd Munn, could not prove it, of course, and even as an illegitimate had a lesser claim in the eyes of the church than the wedded-bedded. If kings could pass on to successors by blood and not marriage, where would the institutional world end up? Priestly horrors.  He was excommunicated. So how did Haakon overcome this infirmity? He did not budge. Finally, as he lay dying or some such, Wikipedia says he declared his son Hakon as his successor. The son Haakon Haakonsen ruled the longest since Sverre Sigurdsson.  See http://www.dokpro.uio.no/umk_eng/myntherr/hh.html.

2. Why is research confusing?

 Names of churches, places, spellings, vary because the Norwegian alphabet has letters in addition to our 26, and incorporates Danish and other sounds.  See http://www.omniglot.com/writing/norwegian.htm/.  That means that to hear a series of sounds may result in a variety of letters on other languages to reproduce the sound.  Haakon Haakonsen, may become Hakon Hakonssen and put small phonetic circles over the "a". of who built what, vary so that research is difficult.

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