Called St. Olav’s Way after the country’s patron saint, it follows the footsteps of pilgrims to Trondheim, called Nidaros in the Middle Ages, and the earthly remains of St. Olav buried under its great cathedral.
The Pilgrim’s Route, (Pilegrimsleden) also known as St. Olav’s Way or the Old Kings’ Road, was a pilgrimage route to the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, the site of the tomb of St. Olav. The main route is approximately 640 kilometres (400 mi) long. It starts in the ancient part of Oslo and heads north along the lake Mjøsa, up the Gudbrandsdal valley, over the Dovrefjell mountains, and down the Oppdal and Gauldalen valleys to end at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
In life, the saint was King Olav Haraldsson, credited with sealing Norway’s conversion to Christianity with a martyr’s death in battle in 1030. He was rushed into sainthood a year later. His spreading fame made Nidaros a major destination for European pilgrams, along with Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Pilgrims trod St. Olav’s Way until Lutheranism reached Norway in 1537, shutting down saint worship.
Celebration of Saint Olaf of Norway, King and martyr in Gudhem outside Falköping, Sweden, on 29th July 2011. Having a lecture and strolling around in the ruins of the Cistercian monestary from 12th century. Pilgrims from Europe passed Gudhem on their way to to the grave of St Olaf of Norway in Nidaros (Trondheim).
There is clear evidence that this route saw heavy use in the early Norwegian Iron Age. Oppdal on the route was located at a crossroads for traffic from Trondheim, the traffic over the Dovrefjell mountain range, and the west coast. At Oppdal there are over 700 Viking era grave mounds. This indicates that the Viking trade routes passed through these valleys.
It is appropriately termed “The King’s Road”. Virtually every king of Norway traveled this road. Those for whom we easily find records of their passage range from the first King of Norway through the last King able to pass that way before the road was completely replaced with modern rail and tarmac.
Harald Fairhair or Harold I was the first king of all Norway who crossed the Dovrefjell on The King’s Road. Harald Hårfagres saga describes an expedition he led up the Gudbrandsdal, and north over Dovrefjeld on his way to success at the battle of Orkadal.
“ King Harald went far and wide through Gautland, and many were the battles he fought there on both sides of the river, and in general he was victorious. In one of these battles fell Hrane Gauzke; and then the king took his whole land north of the river and west of the Veneren, and also Vermaland. And after he turned back there-from, he set Duke Guthorm as chief to defend the country, and left a great force with him. King Harald himself went first to the Uplands, where he remained a while, and then proceeded northwards over the Dovrefjeld to Throndhjem, where he dwelt for a long time. Harald began to have children. By Asa he had four sons. The eldest was Guthorm. Halfdan the Black and Halfdan the White were twins. Sigfrod was the fourth. They were all brought up in Throndhjem with all honour. ”
* The Saga of St. Olaf says that in the year 1021 and again in 1024 King Olaf (1015–1028) travelled north through the Gudbrandsdal valley to Dovrefjell, where he crossed to Nidaros and remained there all winter.
* Magnus Berrføtts saga describes King Haakon Magnusson’s death in the Dovrefjell mountains in 1094. While crossing them he chased a rock ptarmigan until he got sick and died, leaving Magnus King of Norway.
* Christian V (King of Denmark & Norway from 1670 to 1699) crossed the Dovrefjell mountains on horseback in 1685.
* Frederik IV (King of Denmark & Norway from 1699 to 1730) crossed the Dovrefjell mountains in 1704 by cariole. The Norwegian cariole at that time only held one passenger, and the driver or attendant stood or sat behind on a narrow board above the axle.
* Christian VI (King of Denmark & Norway from 1730 to 1746) crossed the Dovrefjell mountains in a 4-horse carriage in 1733. An illustrated manuscript of King Christian and Queen Sophie Magdalene’s five-month long journey through Norway is preserved in the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, of which a facsimile edition was published in 1992.
* King Frederik V’s initials remained carved at Tofte from his passage through.
* Christian Frederick passed this way, as did Karl Johan.
The Norwegian railway line Rørosbanen was opened on 13 October 1877, connecting Hamar and Trondheim via the towns of Elverum and Røros. At this point, pilgrims making the difficult route up through the Dovrefjell mountains lost most of its appeal, compared with the relative ease of taking a train to Trondheim.
The final end of the Old King’s Road came on 17 September 1921, when the Dovrebanen railway was completed. Starting at Dombås in Dovre municipality, it passes over the mountainous stretches of the Dovrefjell, before merging with the Rørosbanen again at Støren. It passes close to the Old King’s Road’s historic route, but is to the west along a route which, although longer, has a lesser grade, as is required for rail.