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Across the North Sea and Back Again: A Comparative Study between the Cults of St. Olav and St. Edmund

Across the North Sea and Back Again: A Comparative Study between the Cults of St. Olav and St. Edmund

By Samuel Patrick Bidwell

MA Thesis, University of Oslo, 2017

A panel from Nidaros Cathedral, dated around 1320 showing Olav, being exhumed by Bishop Grimketel, and declared a saint, on the 3 August 1031.

Introduction: This thesis serves to examine the transmission of royal missionary saints between Norway and England during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, focused on the cult of St. Olav and the cult of St. Edmund. It is evident that during this period the cult of saints was being exported to new areas, as Christendom expanded north and east. The expansion of the cult of St. Olav from Scandinavia to England fit hand in hand with the extension of Christianity around the year 1000.

It is important to further emphasise that unlike certain saints that remained localised in their communities, the cult of St. Olav crossed both cultural and geographical barriers. Furthermore, Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell have stated that ‘the life of a saint was closely intertwined with the community, and above all community had a territorial dimension’.

This demonstrates that although saints were restricted to their communities, these communities were often vast and extended across geographical confines. An avenue increasingly emerged across the North Sea during the eleventh century that allowed for the exchange and dissemination of the cult of royal saints. Dr Edvard Bull writing in 1912 on the connection between the cult of St Olav and England noted that ‘there can therefore scarcely be any doubt but that this worship reached England from Norway, and that owing to the lively traffic between the two countries not only has Norway been influenced from England, but also England from Norway’.


This sense of active borrowing and constant interaction between the cult of St. Olav and English royal missionary saints is a central theme that will be continuously touched upon throughout this investigation.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Oslo

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