6 Domkirken/Sankt Olav (Cathedral/St Olav’s Church)

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View of St Olav’s church, later cathedral of Bergen (photo Bergen Domkirke menighet)

Bergen’s present cathedral (Domkirke) was first mentioned in 1181 as St Olav i Vågsbunnen. Parts of the masonry of this Romanesque church can still be recognized in the north wall of the nave.

Richly framed windows in the west bay, now the tower base (photo Sandalsland)
Richly framed windows in the west bay, now the tower base (photo Sandalsland)

After a fire in 1248 the church was integrated into a newly founded Franciscans’ friary. The building was extended towards the west by one bay which now forms the lower part of the tower. The mouldings of the windows in the chancel and around this western bay were all modelled after English examples.

The five-sided chancel (photo Justin Kroesen)

After a fire in 1270 the church was restored with support of King Magnus Lagabøte (1263-1280), who was buried there. A five-sided chancel was added on the east side and the church was reconsecrated in 1301. In the early fourteenth century a vestry was added on the north side.

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Ground plan of the church c. 1300 (after P. Blix). Click to enlarge

 

 

 

The sedilia (r) and piscina (l) in the south wall of the chancel (photo Alf Tore Hommedal)
The sedilia (r) and piscina (l) in the south wall of the chancel (photo Alf Tore Hommedal)

The new chancel was clearly inspired by contemporary English architecture. The same is true of the priests’ seat (sedilia) and washing basin (piscina) in the south wall of the chancel.

In 1536 the bishop and his chapter moved here after the short-lived cathedral and bishop’s palace at Munkeliv on Nordnes (discussed later on in this tour) was destroyed. When the Reformation was completed in Norway in the following year, the Franciscans’ church became the first Lutheran cathedral of Bergen and the monastery complex was used as the bishop’s residence. In 1570 bishop Jens Pedersen Skjelderup had a number of saints’ images removed from the main altar in order to avoid ‘idolatry’ starting a period of about 40 years of anti-image policy in the diocese of Bergen. This period has been described as ‘crypto-Calvinist’, possibly under influence from the Netherlands.

A cannon ball from 1665 smashed into the wall of the tower and has remained ever since (photo NRK)
A cannon ball from 1665 smashed into the wall of the tower and has remained ever since (photo NRK)

A mighty bell tower was erected on the west end of the church during the 1640s. Soon after, in 1665, a cannon ball fired during a battle in Bergen harbour between English and Dutch ships struck and stuck to the façade. This local favourite can be seen left of the window over the main portal.

The church interior viewed from the east (photo Bergen Domkirke menighet)
The church interior viewed from the east (photo Bergen Domkirke menighet)

In 1835, the former monastery complex disappeared to make room for Bergen’s cathedral school. In 1880-1883 a large-scale restoration of the church was carried out. The old side aisle was then demolished and replaced. On this occasion the church was also stripped of all its Rococo-furnishings and a new altar was erected.

The present organ is the fifth one since 1549, and was built by the Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau in 1997.

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Follow Kong Oscars gate in the same direction past the crossing with Nygaten/Heggebakken until you reach the entrance to Sankt Jørgens Hospital on the right (c. 300 m)

 Next location…

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