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Olaf of Norway, Saint
Arms: Gules a lion rampant crowned Or armed and langued Azure holding in its paws a battle-axe, blade Argent facing dexter, haft curved downward between its paws and feet Proper..

SOURCE/NOTES & CREDITS: Illustration for background from Wikipedia article on Norway, Blazon is from the editor. Text is from the Wikipedia article on St. Olav, The editor’s article on St. Brigitta of Sweden and from “Saint Bridget of Sweden” by Johannes Jorgensen, Longmans Green & Co, London, 1954

Olaf II Haraldsson c. 995-29 July 1030 later became known as Saint Olaf. And in Great Britain as St. Olave and in old Norse as Olafr Haraldsson. He was born in Ringerike the son of Harald Grenske, a petty king in Vestfold, Norway and Åsta Gudbrandsdatter. In Islandic sagas Grenske was described as a great+great+grandson of Harald Fairhair, Norway’s first king and the first to pull most of Norway under his sway. According to the Norwegian Saga “Heimskringla” dating to c.1225: Olaf saw it as his calling to unite Norway under himself into one Christian kingdom. This he did and even added the Orkney Islands. His method of conversion is today considered a bit brutal and in time discontent grew amongst his subordinate petty kings. King Cnut of Denmark took advantage of this discontent and invaded where he picked up the support of Norwegian nobles and Olaf was driven into exile. When King Cnut’s regent, Jarl Haakon Eiriksson was lost at sea in 1029, Olaf returned to retake his Kingdom of Norway, but was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030.

Posthumously Olaf also became known as Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae or Eternal/Perpetual King of Norway. Very swiftly Olav became Norway’s patron Saint. Bishop Grimkell performed his local canonization only a year after Olaf’s death ! The cult of St. Olaf unified Norway and consolidated the Christianization of this country. And is also recognized as the patron saint of the Faroe Islands. Pope Alexander III confirmed Olaf’s local canonization in 1164 making him a universally recognized saint of the Roman Catholic Church with his feast day of 29 July. He became an equally important saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Following the Reformation he became a commemorated historical figure among numbers of members of the Lutheran and Anglican Communions.

The saga of Olaf Haraldsson and the legend of St. Olaf became central to national identity and his fame spread widely abroad. His remains were enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral ( Trondheim, Norway ) and were an important site for pious pilgrims to visit.

One such pilgrim was the famous Swedish saint, St. Brigitta Birgersdatter of Finsta, daughter of an important high Swedish magnate, Birger Persson of Finsta and Lawgiver of Upland. Brigitta and her husband Ulf Gudmarsson of Ulfåsa, Lawgiver of Närke became pilgrims traveling for thirty-five days (on horseback and on foot) from Vadstena, Sweden to Nidaros in Norway over the Dovre Fell to Trondhjem to partake of the Olsok Feast at Nidaros Cathedral on 29 July we believe in 1340.

St. Olaf was a symbol of Norwegian independence and Pride. He is symbolized by the axe in the Norwegian national coat of arms and Olsok on 29 July is still his feast day.

The artwork is an interpretation by John Hamilton Gaylor

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