Tag Archives: St Olave

Saint Olav(e)

On this day in 1030, the Norwegian King Olav II was killed fighting the Danish Vikings at the Battle of Stiklestad.  A year later, he was canonised by the  English Bishop of Selsey, Grimkell or Grimketel (the local canonisation was later confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1164).

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In the later Middle Ages, Olav’s tomb, in the most northerly cathedral in Christendom, in Nidaros [Trondheim], became an important pilgrimage site, and the centre of a widespread “cult of Olav”.

5 - Relief of St Olav, church of St Olave Hart Street

Interestingly, a  number of churches in and around the City of London are  dedicated to St Olav(e),  including  St Olave Hart Street (pictured, above) …

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… St Nicholas Olave, St Olave Jewry and St Olave Silver Street (pictured, above) in the City …

4 - Mosaic of St Olave, site of former church of St Olave Southwark

… St Olave in Southwark …

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…  and St Olave in Rotherhithe.

This is because, in 1014, Olav Haraldsson, as he then was, was an ally of the Saxon English, under Ethelred “The Unready”, in their fight against the against the Viking Danish, under Cnut, and he helped relieve  Saxon London from Viking occupation  (albeit only temporarily).

According to the “Olaf Sagas”, he destroyed the Saxon incarnation of London Bridge, and the Viking army assembled on it poised to attack, by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.

The  court poet Ottar Svarte wrote, in the eleventh century, and Snorri Sturluson rewrote, in the thirteenth:

“London Bridge is broken down.

Gold is won, and bright renown.

Shields resounding, war-horns sounding,

Hild is shouting in the din!

Arrows singing, mail-coats ringing-

Odin makes our Olaf win!”

Many believe this to be the origin of the much-loved nursery-rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”.

 

“London Bridge is broken down”

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts of events in the history of London …

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark

In  1014, according to the “Olaf Sagas”, the Norwegian Olaf Haraldsson, an ally of the English King Ethelred II, “The Unready” in his fight against the Danish Vikings,  destroyed London Bridge and the Viking army assembled on it by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.

In 1225, Snorri Sturluson wrote an account of the event based on the “Olaf Sagas”, which reads (in translation) as follows:

Olaf, and the Northmen’s fleet with him, rowed … under the bridge, laid their cables around the piles which supported it, and then rowed off … as hard as they could down the stream.  … Now …  the piles being …  broken, the bridge gave way; and a great part of the men upon it fell into the river, and all the others … surrendered … , and took Ethelred to be their king.  So says Ottar Svarte:

‘London Bridge is broken down.

Gold is won, and bright renown.

Shields resounding, War-horns sounding,

Hild is shouting in the din!

Arrows singing, Mail-coats ringing –

Odin makes our Olaf win!’

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Detail from stained glass window below

Olaf went on to become King Olaf II of Norway in 1015, and Saint Olaf or Olav(e), to whom a number of London churches were to be dedicated, after he was martyred at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Stained glass window with St Olav(e) in left panel, church of St Olave Hart Street

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark

Mural on Site of church of St Olave, Southwark