Munkeliv Abbey was a Benedictine abbey on the Nordnes peninsula to the west of Bergen harbour (Vågen). It was one of the first monasteries in Norway and also one of the wealthiest. It was situated on the site of present-day Klosteret square.
The abbey was founded around 1110 by King Øystein Magnusson in a strategic location overlooking the town of Bergen. Its church, dedicated to the archangel St Michael, was largely built during the 1120s. A monumental tower was probably added in the 1280s.
After a long period of growth and prosperity the Plague of 1349 brought about a sharp decline for the monastery. An attack by pirates in 1393 then caused great damage. The complex was taken over by the Order of the Bridgettines in the 1420s, and became a double monastery for both monks and nuns.
Disaster struck again in 1455 when the bishop of Bergen, Torleiv Olavsson, was killed while officiating at the altar in the church. The attackers were a group of Hanseatic merchants who followed up murder by setting the monastery on fire. During the 1460s the monks and nuns of Munkeliv had to seek refuge in the abbey at Hovedøya near Oslo until the site was re-occupied in 1480.
After the monastery had been dissolved in 1531, the bishop of Bergen used the premises as his residence, and the former abbey church served as Bergen’s cathedral. Five years later the entire complex was set on fire in 1536. The bishop and his chapter then moved to the former Fransiscans’ church to what is now Bergens cathedral (visited earlier on in this tour).
The ruins of Munkeliv abbey church were excavated in 1860. A twelfth-century pillar base from the church’s crypt decorated with monster heads is preserved in the University Museum (to be visited later on). Today, all that reminds of one of Norway’s oldest and wealthiest monasteries on the spot is a street name and a corner cafe called ‘Klosteret’.
Further west, near the head of Nordnes, stood a medieval wooden church known as ‘Margaretakirken’. This church was built on the site where, in the early fourteenth century, the so-called ‘False Queen Margaret’ had been executed, giving rise to a local and never officially recognized martyr’s cult. The church vanished without a trace at the time of the Reformation.
Follow Klostergaten and Markeveien in southeastern direction, turn right (before the bridge!) on Teatergaten and follow this past Håkonsgaten, climb Sydneskleiven, then follow Øysteinsgate in the same direction until you reach Sydnesplassen (c. 1 km)