Sickness in the Nidaros Cathedral?
By Geir W. Jacobsen and Erlend Hem
Tidsskr Nor Legeforen, Vol.6 (2012)
Introduction: Up towards the ceiling vault of the Nidaros Cathedral, a number of artworks are hidden from public view. Many of the stone sculptures portray mythological animals and other scary creatures. In such company, one would imagine that human faces were also intended to evoke fear and anguish. Do they depict people with diseases?
In the winter of 2011, parts of the Nidaros Cathedral were cleaned and renovated for the first time sine the mid-1920s. This took place in the octagon, the octagonal space erected over the spot where Saint Olav is believed to be buried. A six-storey scaffolding replaced the high altar to reach the keystone in the vault. On his way up and down the scaffolding, the first author had an opportunity to admire works of art that have been inaccessible to the public since the previous cleaning. According to archaeologist Øystein Ekroll, who is in charge of the restoration works, another century will pass before anyone will come so close to these art treasures again.
In this elevated space one would possibly expect to encounter portrayals of angels and saints, but there are few to be seen. On the contrary, strange mythological animals, and not least demons and other eerie apparitions dominate the upper space. Our interest soon turned to a group of figures on a cornice frieze at the third level of elevation – a depiction of two human faces and five mythological animals, all with a ghoulish appearance.