Tag Archives: St. Olav’s Way

This Week in Pilgrimage: New Albergues and More

[View from a Bar in Finisterre]

Photo of the Week
View from a bar in Finisterre, after my braver companions went swimming in the November-cold water.
Submit your photo for Photo of the Week.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is, alas, far from perfect. This week, some information also comes from Italian and Norwegian sites, where I’ve had to rely completely on Google Translate.

As usual, get in touch if I’ve missed anything. Or for any other reason, really. I’d love to hear from you!

Camino Bits and Pieces

  • Puente Castro, a suburb of León, just opened a welcome and interpretive centre for pilgrims: El Museo de las Tres Culturas (The Museum of Three Cultures). The centre focuses on local history: Roman, Christian, and especially Jewish. Located in the Church of San Pedro, it’s described as a place for pilgrims to get information before entering León, rest and learn. The centre is currently hosting an exhibition called (in English) “One Camino, Three Cultures: The Puzzle of History in León.”
  • This information is from a week ago, so the situation I’m about to describe may have cleared up by now. If I understand this correctly, last year a disturbed Slovenian pilgrim tried to kill Tomás of Manjarin’s dogs. This same man reappeared last week on the Camino. He’s about 30 years old, has blond hair (possibly with brown highlights—I don’t understand that part) and has a blue backpack. Tomás wants anyone who sees the man to call him (Tomás) on his cell phone: 609 938 642.
  • Camino associations responsible for the Camino de Levante (southeast variant) want to make the route into a GR path. (The GR routes are seriously long-distance European footpaths.) They figure this would enhance the route, which would become the GR-239, and make it better known to hikers. It also seems that the route would become better way marked as a GR route.
  • According to a Diario de León article, representatives of pilgrim associations in Spain are afraid that in the last few years the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has become increasingly about travelling the last 100 kilometres. The Burgos association says this trend (which isn’t general yet) “doesn’t fit with the spirit of the route.” The average distance walked by pilgrims dropped from 444 kilometres in 2008 to 435 kilometres in 2009 and 422 kilometres (the lowest of the decade) in 2010. I believe this is part of a continuing disagreement between the pilgrim associations and governments the associations say are trying to turn the Camino into a tourist fad, but I have an incomplete grasp of the Spanish language, and no grasp at all of Spanish politics, so please don’t quote me on that.
  • The Camino Mozárabe, which begins in Granada (or Málaga) and ends in Mérida, where it meets up with the Vía de la Plata, was recently promoted at the Feria Internacional de Turismo Madrid (International Tourism Fair of Madrid) in a presentation that aimed to promote rural tourism. I’m not entirely sure what this means for the route, except that it may well get more popular—and, we can only hope, develop some albergues.
  • A new albergue is due to open this summer in Medina de Rioseco, north of Valladolid on the Camino de Madrid. The Convent of Santa Clara, located at the pilgrim entrance to the town, is currently converting one of its buildings into an albergue that will hold 18 pilgrims. (Via Rebekah Scott.)
  • The city council of Otero de Bodas is turning an old forge into a small albergue with room for two pilgrims. The nearby Camino Sanabrés (from Zamora to Santiago) doesn’t actually pass through Otero de Bodas, but town councillor David Ferrero Rodríguez said pilgrims, particularly cyclists, often pass through when they follow Highway 631—and the town could eventually be on an alternative Camino route. The renovations should be completed by the end of January.
  • In airport news, EasyJet has just joined RyanAir in offering international flights to and from the Santiago airport. It now has flights between Santiago and Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Representatives of the Xunta de Galicia met recently with the mayor of Le Puy-en-Velay. They decided to work together to create a network of the regions that the Camino de Santiago passes through, “in order to maintain a common tourism policy and to organize a coherent proposal from the two points of the Camino.” I don’t actually know what this means. I suspect I wouldn’t really understand it if it were originally in English—sounds like opaque government-speak to me.
  • Santiago, Spain and Tanabe, Japan are making a joint effort to promote their respective tourist routes: the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and the Japanese Kumano Kodo, both World Heritage Sites. The website www.Spiritual-Pilgrimages.net, which has pretty pictures but not a lot of useful content, is part of the effort.
  • Pablo Mosquera-Costoya, a Camino pilgrim and mixologist from A Coruña, developed a new cocktail in honour of the Holy Year. You can read the story—and get the recipe—on the Savoir Faire website. (Via Sil.)
  • The library in the new City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela has just begun a series of sessions “that is presented as a dialogue between literature and the fine arts.” Each of the twelve sessions will be about a single author—nine from Galicia, and three “guests.” Each will open with a talk about the author by an expert, followed by “a performance related to the spirit of the author being honoured,” and appetizers. This free series started on January 15, and will run until June 25.
  • The Camino Documentary recently shared a video clip that has various experts talking about medieval pilgrim motivations.

Other Pilgrimage Routes

  • Caravaca de la Cruz, which is a Holy City because it has the Vera Cruz or True Cross (which apparently contains wood from Jesus’s cross), hopes to become a “centre of pilgrimage in southern Spain.” Walking-wise, nine (or five, or eight, or ten—there doesn’t seem to be any clear agreement) routes collectively called the Caminos de la Vera Cruz lead to the city.
  • The Cammina Francigena organization (which seems to be related to the Slow Movement), has mapped out accommodations on the Via Francigena along a GPS route. (Via Sylvia Nilsen.)
  • A wreath was placed (I’m not sure by whom) on Archbishop Øystein Erlendsson’s statue at the Nidaros cathedral on Wednesday to mark the 850th anniversary of his return home to Nidaros (now Trondheim) to become archbishop. Erlendsson was the architect who designed the Nidaros cathedral, where pilgrims go to visit Saint Olav’s shrine. According to the article, “he was the most significant archbishop in the Middle Ages and was held to be a saint after his death (January 26, 1188).”

Pilgrim Roads

I spoke with pilgrim author Brandon Wilson earlier this week about the Templar Trail to Jerusalem, and will be posting an audio interview and article based on that conversation next week.

Also, Ian Brodrick recently traversed the Saint Bernard Pass (on the Via Francigena), and will be reporting on the pass in winter. It sounds like it’s not a journey for the inexperienced.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:09 pm
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Comments Off on This Week in Pilgrimage: New Albergues and More

This Week in Pilgrimage: The End of a Holy Year

I’ve started a new blog schedule this week.

(Of course, you probably weren’t aware there was an old one, but it did exist—in my head.)

On Mondays and Wednesdays (Pacific time—it may often end up being Tuesdays and Thursdays in more distant parts of the world), I’ll continue to publish interviews, thoughts and stories on walking pilgrimage routes, with probably a little more historical content.

On Fridays, I’ll have a roundup of all the walking pilgrimage-related news I’ve come across over the past week, and other miscellaneous things that don’t quite fit into other posts. If you know of anything you think belongs here, please tell me. I definitely can’t keep track of everything.

Please note that a number of my sources are Spanish. My Spanish translation skills aren’t wonderful, and neither are Google Translator’s, but between us we muddle through. The information should be accurate, but I can’t one hundred percent guarantee it.

So without further ado….

The End of the Holy Year

The Puerta Santa has closed, and another Jacobean Holy Year has come to an end. The next isn’t for another ten years, in 2021.

In 2010, according to Pilgrim’s Office statistics, 272,340 pilgrims received the Compostela, up from 145,878 in 2009 and 179,944 in 2004, the previous Holy Year.

You can see a lot of other statistics, including gender, mode of transportation, age, motivation, nationality, profession, starting points, and routes, on the Pilgrim’s Office website. Do keep in mind that these statistics reflect only the pilgrims who received Compostelas—the Federación Española de Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago estimates there were 300,000 pilgrims in all.

But despite these statistics, the regions of Navarra, Aragón, La Rioja and Castilla y León actually saw a three to six percent drop in the number of pilgrims that passed through in 2010 compared with 2009. It’s the astronomical number of pilgrims who started in Galicia who account for the large rise in Compostelas.

The director of the Centro de Estudios y Documentación del Camino de Santiago has explained this by saying (as far as I understand) that the majority of pilgrims who go for longer pilgrimages prefer the “soft symphony” of non-Holy Years on the Camino to the “big Jacobean hubbub” of the Holy Year.

Temporary Pilgrim Centre on Saint Olav’s Way

From what I can understand by using an online translator, a temporary pilgrim centre has been set up in Trondheim to help manage, develop and promote Saint Olav’s Way.

This is good news, because it means that the work of the Pilgrimsleden pilot project, which ended in 2010, will continue.

The Camino/Harry Potter Link

Writer and journalist Félix Pacho has just published a series of essays about the history of the Camino de Santiago. One of the stories he tells is of the alchemist Nicholas Flamel, familiar to some of us through the first Harry Potter book, who walked the Camino as far as León in search of someone who could translate an old book.

His Camino ended in León because he found the translator he was looking for: a Jewish doctor. The book turned out to be about both turning ordinary metals into gold and the secret of eternal youth. But the doctor died on the way back to Paris with Flamel, leaving the book only partly translated.

So Flamel didn’t get the secret of eternal youth … that time.

According to J. K. Rowling, he did find it eventually in the philosopher’s stone (sorcerer’s stone to Americans), which let him live another few centuries to become a friend of Dumbledore’s.

So … three degrees of separation between Harry Potter and the Camino. Who’d ever have guessed?

Camino Bits and Pieces

  • Spain’s new anti-smoking laws theoretically mean no more smoky bars, but Johnnie Walker reports that people are still smoking in the outdoor sections of bars and restaurants.
  • On December 27, the Spanish soccer team dedicated its 2010 World Cup win to the apostle Saint James.
  • In April of this year, the Santiago Cathedral will celebrate the 800th anniversary of its consecration. There are going to be two big exhibitions: one that tells the story of the cathedral complex, and another that tells the history of “Compostela,” which I believe means the city. There will also be musical concerts as part of the celebration. The cathedral itself will continue to undergo restorations throughout the year, and should be in “full splendor” for the next Holy Year in 2021.
  • As of yesterday, there were two new buses connecting Santiago de Compostela with its airport. From what I can gather, they’re wheelchair accessible, and depart every half hour. The first leaves Santiago at 6 a.m., and the airport at 6:45 a.m. The last leaves Santiago at 12 midnight, and the airport at 12:45 a.m.
  • In further airport news, according to Camino a Santiago on Twitter (yes, I’ve joined Twitter, which is actually a great place to keep up with Camino updates in Spanish), Santiago’s airport won’t have any international flights until spring—bad news, as they say, for foreign pilgrims returning home.
  • According to the mayor of Santiago de Compostela, the city’s historic centre may well be almost completely restored within the next five to seven years. Apparently, the number of the ancient buildings in poor shape decreased from 49.17 percent in 1989 to 16.65 percent in 2008.
  • Five Spanish communities: Euskadi, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia and La Rioja, are trying to lure pilgrims north of the Camino Francés. They’ve banded together to produce two pamphlets, together called “Los Caminos del Norte a Santiago.” The pamphlets promote the Camino del Norte, the Camino Primitivo, and the Camino del Interior. The first has information on the route and attractions along the way—it sounds like an overview to attract pilgrims. The second is a practical guide in Spanish, English, French, German and Italian with information about accommodation, shops and hospitals and more. The article doesn’t say where you can get this pamphlet, but I’d assume it’s available at tourist information offices.
  • The lucky people of Dublin will soon have a chance to see The Way, the Emilio Estevez movie about the Camino. The movie will be part of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
  • Raquel Martín, president of the association Amigos del Camino de Santiago en Ávila, reports a substantial increase in pilgrims on the Camino de Levante in 2010 compared to previous years, judging by the number that have stayed in the association’s albergue: 350. He hopes to soon see an albergue in every town in Ávila where pilgrims might stop for the night.
  • Emilene, who is already gearing up for her Camino in 2012, wrote this week about what she suspects are going to be her two biggest Camino challenges: getting lost, and not speaking Spanish. She has an interesting quotation from Tony Kevin, and another (you can decide for yourself if it’s interesting or not) from this blog.
  • Sil, who kindly gave me the words of the Dum Paterfamilas (the original Ultreïa song) the other week, wrote today about why non-religious people have spiritual experiences on the Camino, and speculates that it has to do with connecting with the right (intuitive) side of the brain.
  • Johnnie Walker, who has walked many routes to Santiago and produced guidebooks on some of them, recently published all his on-line videos in a single post. They cover everything from a variety of Camino routes to the Botafumeiro in Santiago Cathedral.
  • Neville Tencer and Julie Burke, whom I interviewed last month about their pilgrimage to Rome, wrote this week about linking the Camino de Santiago with the Via Francigena to Rome.

And that’s it … for this week.

If you have any additions or suggestions, or just want to chat, please do comment or write. Have a great weekend!

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:50 pm
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Interview with a Pilgrim on Saint Olav’s Way: Mark Nienstaedt

[On the Olavsleden]

Along the Olavsleden
Photo courtesy Mark Nienstaedt

The Olavsleden, or Saint Olav’s Way, like the Camino de Santiago, is a blanket term for a number of routes that lead to a single destination.

In the case of the Olavsleden, that destination is Saint Olav’s shrine at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway.

This year, two of the Olavsleden routes have been officially certified by the European Institute of Cultural Routes. Mark Nienstaedt, an American skier, hiker and cyclist, walked one them last July, an approximately 640-kilometre (398-mile) route from Oslo to Trondheim. Mark added a small section of another route for a total of 669 kilometres (416 miles).

You have two options for continuing with my interview with Mark about his journey on the Olavsleden. You can listen to the slightly edited version in my first Pilgrim Roads podcast (an MP3 file that runs 46:16), or read my briefer article based on the interview below.

The article has substantial quotes from Mark, but doesn’t cover as much ground as the audio version does.

* * *

When Mark Nienstaedt set out on the Olavsleden, he already had an impressive hiking résumé, which included the Camino Francés and Via de la Plata routes of the Camino de Santiago, the Appalachian Trail, and other wilderness thru-hikes. He has also cycled about 130,000 kilometres (80,000 miles) in different parts of the world.

A More Isolated Route Than the Camino Francés

While the Olavsleden isn’t exactly a wilderness trail, it’s more of a wilderness route than is the Camino Francés. But Mark said anyone who has walked the Camino Francés should be able to handle the Olavsleden:

Anybody that’s walked the Camino Francés from start to finish is certainly equipped to do it. Which is not to say that they aren’t going to have to learn a few more things and adjust to life on the Olavsleden….

If you set out to walk 800 kilometres like you do on the Camino Francés, or 650 kilometres across Norway, and you’re going to stick it out, you’re a plenty hardy person by definition and you’ve probably got the resources it takes to do that kind of job. But I would say that the Olavsleden at times is significantly more of a mountaineering exercise—and I’m not talking technical mountaineering, but it’s more of a mountaineering type exercise than the Camino Francés is.

You do not—and this part I would be emphatic about—you do not walk through towns every day. And in fact while you walk in sight of towns most days, that’s the operative phrase: “in sight of.” If you really want to go to them, you have to walk off to them, and they may be a detour of two to three kilometres, usually down slope from you. And if you go into town, well, you’ve got to climb back up to get to where you had started.

But it’s a different experience [from the Camino Francés], and it’s better to say that it’s different than to say that it’s harder.

Physically Strenuous, But Usually Not in Long Stretches

Physically, Mark said, the Olavsleden can be more strenuous than the Camino Francés.

I am going to say that it can be quite physically strenuous. Usually not for long stretches. I’m not going to tell you that there were whole days, or days on end where I was exhausted or anything like that. I am in good physical condition. I’m 56 years old, don’t forget….

But what I’m going to say is that you’re in mountain country, and some of the times that means that you’re walking very steep slopes. I’m not talking treacherous like I’m going to fall and crash and break my skull slopes. But I’m talking effort. And you’re going to need to deal with that. …

There are ways around all that stuff. All you got to do to avoid some of that is to drop down in the lower valley where the main road thoroughfares and places are. And you can give yourself an easier spell along some alternative route, and then you can go back to a place that is more your style.

The Weather

When Mark started out at the beginning of July 2009, the Oslo area was going through an unprecedented heat wave. Later, on the Dovrefjell, which is above the tree line, he worried about hypothermia.

It rained 24 out of the 28 days he walked, but, he said, the rain wasn’t usually much of a problem.

It’s probably also true to note that only two of those days were heavy rain days. And the rest of the time it was kind of like, maybe I could call it Irish rain. The little kind of shower that is borderline between misty and sprinkling.

A lot of the time I wasn’t even putting on rain gear. I was probably using a rain cover on my pack all the time, but I was staying plenty warm enough just by keeping moving, and I was enduring some kind of half-hour shower or something. It just was a question of getting used to the idea that it was going to happen every day.

And once it became baseline normal, you realized that, hey, forget about it. Just start enjoying the place. It’s beautiful. And indeed it is.

After learning about ultralite gearing on the Appalachian Trail, Mark didn’t even carry heavy rain gear.

I had a little tiny raincoat with me in Norway, but it was hardly a shell, and it weighed an order of maybe 1.5 ounces I think, or two ounces…. If it was going to rain heavily I was going to get wet. On the other hand, during this misty kind of sprinkle rain I was dealing with a good part of the time, it was more than adequate.

Often Alone But Not Lonely

[Mark Nienstaedt]

Mark Nienstaedt.
Photo courtesy Mark Nienstaedt.

Mark didn’t meet a lot of other walkers who were walking the entire trail, but out of the several people he knew from guestbook entries were ahead of him, two were Camino de Santiago veterans.

“Which is to tell you,” he said, “that if you’ve done the Camino and you’re interested in this pilgrim way, you should definitely think about doing this one too.”

One of the Camino pilgrims was a man Mark had walked with on the Camino. Unfortunately, the other pilgrim was a week ahead, and Mark never caught up with him.

But despite the low numbers of other pilgrims, Mark didn’t find the trip lonely.

Yes, during any given day you’re going to spend a lot of time on your own, but by the end of your day, on a typical day, you’re going to set yourself up somewhere … and stay in civilization for the evening. And suddenly you’re going to be in the company of people who are very welcoming, they’re very interested in your experience, they’re very interested in helping you, and they do help you. To me, that means I’m not lonely.

Mark doesn’t speak Norwegian, but he found a lot of Norwegians—particularly the younger ones, spoke English. This was especially true of people involved in services pilgrims might need.

When it comes to places where you need to transact business that’s going to be important to you—you need to buy your groceries, you need to arrange some lodging for the night, you’re worried about a transportation problem. When it comes to people that work in those areas, you can almost take it for granted that they’re going to be able to speak English to you.

Way Marking

The Olavsleden is also not as thoroughly way marked as the Camino Francés. For Mark, this meant that he usually lost the way marks for a while every day. But he found it easy to stay oriented, and came to enjoy the challenge of finding his way again.

[The Olavsleden] is really, actually—I want to emphasize—very well marked. It’s just not as continuously and frequently way marked as the Camino Francés, for example, is.

When I said I was getting lost, I’m saying I lost my way marks. And that, of course, always resulted in a certain indecision, in terms of, okay, what do I do next? But … you were never lost in terms of where to go, because it would be a question of interpreting the landscape.

Typically you’re walking up a valley, for example, and if you lose your way marks, you still know how to follow the contour lines of the valley. You know where you’re going to go. You certainly can equip yourself with decent maps. You can look at a map, and you can decide where the cross-roads in your line of walk are going to be, and you can walk until you cut one of them.

And then it’s a question of discovering where you are on the road, and whether you have to turn left or turn right to reach a road crossing that’s going to have a marking, and on you go.

And, notwithstanding that I was lost, I never really lost that much time finding myself…. I typically always just persisted moving ahead. I knew which way to go; I could be confident which way to go. And it just meant that I was going to spend a lot more time, or be a lot more alert, for recovering way marking. And it always worked.

And honestly I’m going to say that once I got used to the fact that this was going to be more routine, I began to regard it as a lot of fun. … It was like, “Oh my God, I’m lost again. I wonder where I’m going to have to go to figure it out this time.” …

I was never worried about finding my way.

It would be different for someone without his wilderness experience, Mark said, but not impossible. He once heard from a man who didn’t have his extensive wilderness experience, and ended up writing a book about walking the Olavsleden:

It’s very, very clear that he really enjoyed his experience, and the challenges it posed for him. The overcoming of those challenges was clearly very satisfying for him.

And I think that kind of experience is out there for anybody. If you think you’re up to this, and you’re willing to put some effort into it, and stick to it and be determined and have a little courage and faith in yourself, you’re going to do just fine.

The Dovrefjell: Walking Above the Treeline

[On the Dovrefjell]

On the Dovrefjell.
Photo courtesy Mark Nienstaedt

For much of the route, pilgrims walk within sight of roads and towns, but the route also passes through the Dovrefjell, a national park, for several days. The Dovrefjell is above the treeline. Walking in July, Mark passed snow banks and mountain lakes with ice floating in them. There were also no real roads.

“[The Dovrefjell is] every bit as wild and park-like as some of your beautiful parks there in Canada, and some of ours here in the United States,” Mark said. “You can get to civilization, but the country that you’re passing through as you go between civilized points is not civilized.”


Accommodation along the Olavsleden ranges from campsites to hotels. Norway’s right of access laws also specify that you can camp anywhere in the countryside or wilderness that isn’t cultivated, as long as it’s also at least 150 metres from the nearest house or cabin.

Mark started out with a lightweight tent and a plan to use it often. He used it three out of his first five nights.

That probably was the period of my walk that I regarded and experienced as being most lonely. Because then I was spending a lot of the time during the day by myself, and where was I at the end of the day? I was in the woods and I was still all by myself.

The unusual heat wave that gripped the country while Mark was walking, and the occasional rain also made camping a less attractive option.

“To be a pilgrim, you really have to be capable of adjusting,” Mark said. After five or six days, he decided to sleep indoors for the rest of the trip.

He stayed in youth hostels in cities, and in some special pilgrim refuges, but he stayed in what he described as “rustic” farm accommodation.

Typically … on a farm, [the farmer says], “We have one of our old historical buildings here next to our principal residence, and maybe 50 yards from the barn. It’s a nice old house, and we’ve fixed it up a bit. There’s some nice bedrooms in it. There’s a rudimentary old kitchen that we haven’t used for a while in it. It’s still got its plumbing functional.”

And you’d get to stay there. And the farm wife would bring you out your dinner, and you, and possibly you could get breakfast the next morning.

Breakfast was usually a smorgasbord with breads, toast, hard-boiled eggs, fresh veggies, meat and herring. Mark found if he got breakfast, he could usually ask for niste. That meant for an extra US$2 or $3 he got a paper bag he could fill with food from the smorgasbord, and save it for lunch.

Accommodation costs weren’t as cheap as in Spain, but Mark found he could usually choose from a range of options. He usually ended up paying about 100 to 400 kroner, or approximately US$15 to $50. Often, for US$40 or $50 he got accommodation and enough food to last him for 24 hours.

But staying on farms wasn’t just about finding affordable accommodation, Mark said:

The other thing you’re getting when you’re staying in these places, you’re getting immediate contact with local people. And they are wonderful. And there wasn’t a dollar that I spent on the Olavsleden that I didn’t consider very well spent.

Once night Mark chose to spend about 800 kroner to stay at Sygard’s Grytting, the only pilgrim’s farmstead refuge still in existence that used to house medieval pilgrims.

I loved every minute of my time there. And the great news was, the very next night a guy offered me a place to stay for the night for free. So it kind of evened out after it was all over.

But Sygard’s Grytting is a place you have to go to, and if you don’t spend the money you’re being foolish. Penny wise, pound foolish. And the reason is that, hey, this was the oldest period-authentic pilgrim hostel on the entire Olavsleden. You could sleep in it, and they’d done the carbon dating work, and it was a bona fide, recognized national historic landmark.

It was dated to the 1360s, and places don’t get any older than that in the countryside of Norway. And I was sleeping there right in the bed that had been around for—what does that make it?—700 years.

And the people were wonderful. The dinner that I had that night with eight Norwegian big house guests, with wine and courses and conversation, the pan-fried fresh trout we had the next morning for breakfast, it was just awesome.

And overall, it being pilgrim travelling and simple walking, I didn’t spend that much money in Norway. If you go to Norway and you’re driving around in your car, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than walking.

The Saint Olav Festival


Photo courtesy Mark Nienstaedt

Mark walked into Trondheim on July 28, the day before Saint Olav’s Day.

“That is the way you need to do this,” he said. “You need to time your arrival in Trondheim to be there on … the eve of St. Olav’s feast day.”

He arrived around four o’clock and went to the cathedral. Immediately upon arriving at the pilgrim’s hostel next to the cathedral, he was told to shower and get on a bus to take him out to the edge of town by eight o’clock:

And I’m going, “Okay, what for?” And they say, “Well, the custom on the eve of St. Olav’s here in Trondheim is that people gather at all the churches on the periphery of the city, and then they walk [the five kilometres or so] in groups into the cathedral. …

But the way they organize these little evening of the feast day walks, is that you stop at two or three churches on your way in to the cathedral, and by about ten p.m. a stream of people , local people, pilgrims arriving, anybody that’s interested. …

A number of streams … converge on the cathedral, and by midnight you’re all sitting inside the cathedral, and it’s several thousands of people. And they have a midnight Mass for you. And then they have a vigil scheduled all night long. Every hour on the hour there’s a little mini conference involving singing, dancing, prayer reading—you name it, but continually until dawn. And dawn is the beginning of six or seven days of festival.

Mark compared the festival to the Spanish festivals he encountered along the Camino. There are concerts, lectures, craft demonstrations, outdoor bazaars, and events in churches through the day. Pilgrims can stay cheaply in the pilgrim hostel for the entire week, and it’s well worth doing that, Mark said.

“Trondheim for the week of the Olav’s Days is marvelous.”

Spirituality and Walking With a Group

[A church along the way]

A church along the way.
Photo courtesy Mark Nienstaedt

I asked Mark what it was like walking as a pilgrim in Norway, which is a relatively secular country, compared with Catholic Spain. He warned me his answer wouldn’t be what I expected, and it wasn’t.

“There was a really unique and wonderful way in which pilgrimage on the Olavsleden is far more spiritual than it was in Spain,” he said.

He experienced this side of the Olavsleden this year, when he returned to Norway to spend ten days walking 175 kilometres of another Way of Saint Olav route, the Nordleden, as part of an organized group. Walking this way is a little more expensive than going alone, “but completely worth your money,” Mark said.

Some groups have a pilgrim priest (male or female), and all have a minister who walks the entire distance with the group. Additionally, in a tradition dating back to medieval times, each day the group gets a different kjentmann (pronounced shent-man), a local person with a lot of local knowledge who escorts the group for that day.

The kjentmann, on every occasion, is a local person who loves the outdoors and knows the country that you have to pass through on that given day, and who’s going to guide you the whole way. And if you walk in one of these groups, you’ll never get lost.

If you go with one of these groups, what they’ll do for you is they’ll create for you this uniquely pilgrim experience, which is going to include, for example, prayer, morning, noon and night, sort of like praying hours, as was done in medieval times. You’re going to be received—they use this terminology—you’re going to be received at every single church along the way.

Being received at the church is going to involve the minister coming in to open the church up for you. But far more than that, it’s going to involve something like a dozen or 15 people gathering at the church with hot coffee and little cakes and some fresh fruit. And they’re all going to just sit around and pass the time of day with you, and chat with you. The priest is probably going to have a bit of a blessing or a sermon for you.

And when you leave that place, some of the local people are going to spend the next first few kilometres after it walking with you until they have to turn around and go back to their cars.

And you’re constantly, if you’re in one of these groups … you’re in the flow of the local people coming out to the pilgrim way, and sharing your experience, and enriching your experience with you. And all I’m going to tell you is, it’s religious, it’s spiritual, and it’s absolutely marvellous. There’s nothing like it along the Camino or the Via de la Plata in Spain.

Other Roads to Trondheim

Mark doesn’t plan to go back and re-walk the Olavsleden from Oslo.

I’m not the kind of person that goes back and re-walks routes that I’ve already walked. I won’t do that, I’ve never done it yet. I believe life should always be new and fresh and interesting, and so I’ll do something different.

But he does plan to return to Norway for some pilgrim walking. Next on his list is the Romboleden—the second of the Saint Olav’s routes that were recognized by the European Institute for Cultural Routes earlier this year.

The Romboleden runs from the German/Denmark border, through Denmark and Sweden to Norway. There’s no guidebook in English yet, but Mark figures it’s about 1500 kilometres (932 miles), give or take a few hundred kilometres.

“It’s on my—what is that famous movie called?—it’s on my bucket list.”

A Great Challenge

In the end, Mark highly recommends the Olavsleden to anyone who’s walked the Camino Francés and is interested in going on pilgrimage in Norway.

It is a physical challenge, and at the same time that I’m going to say that it is by no means an insurmountable challenge. It’s the kind of challenge that once you master it, you feel really good about the fact that you took it on and you conquered it, and I would encourage people to give it a shot.

* * *

You can read more about Mark’s journey and see more of his beautiful photos on his Olavsleden blog, which he created after his journey from letters and postcards he sent home as he walked. Mark also has a brand new blog on the Via de la Plata.

For further information on the Olavsleden, visit the English part of the pilegrim.info website.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 5:08 pm
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Comments Off on Interview with a Pilgrim on Saint Olav’s Way: Mark Nienstaedt

So Many Roads …

[Pilgrim Sign]

Caution, Pilgrims!

For most of the time I was walking the Camino de Santiago, I thought it was a one-off journey. I loved it, but I didn’t think I’d ever actually do it again. That’s part of the reason I walked all the way from Le Puy to Santiago: I didn’t want my once-in-a-lifetime trip to end too soon.

But as soon as I walked into Santiago, I wanted to do it again—maybe on a different route this time. I’ve been researching various Camino routes intermittently since I got back to Canada two years ago. The Arles route and the one from Vezelay in France. The Camino del Norte (including some of its branch routes), the Via de la Plata, the Camino Mozárabe, the Camino Portugués, the Camino de Levante, and even more in Spain.

And then recently I’ve been talking with people who have walked other pilgrimage routes: Julie Burk and Neville Tencer, who walked the Via Francigena to Rome, and Mark Nienstaedt, who walked the Olavsleden (Saint Olav’s Way) from Oslo to Trondheim in Norway. Those two routes sounded so amazing that I had to add them to my list, too.

There’s also the 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan, which I first heard of on the Camino, and a longer Route to Trondheim from the German border that Mark told me about. And as I keep going with this blog, I’m sure to learn of more places to walk.

It’s exciting to have such a long list, but it really makes me want to get going. And I need to save up some money first.

I guess patience is the lesson I’ll have to focus on while I’m stuck at home.

What about you? What route(s) do you want to walk next? Share your answers in the comments.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:57 am
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