The Gothic Cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Norway

The great Gothic Cathedral of Nidaros is where the new kings of old Norway once received their official blessing. Built over the burial place of St. Olav, the patron saint of Norway, the construction of this enormous building with countless details and decorations, began as early as 1070. Tradition says that the high altar of the Cathedral stands on the very spot where Saint Olav lay buried for a year. Nidaros is the world’s northernmost cathedral and Norway’s national shrine. There is an all-in-one ticket to visit Nidaros Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace Museum and the Crown Regalia but we were running out of time.

partial West Front sculptures, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim

Approaching from the side of Nidaros, I was struck by the wonderful facade filled with statuary. One sculpture had a statue in the first row of a man holding three heads. Huh? With no one to explain about the statuary, I entered the Visitor’s Center and bought a book.

Bishop Sigurd holding three heads, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim


The man holding three heads is Bishop Sigurd who died around 1008. Bishop Sigurd was an English priest who came to Norway in 995 with Olav Tryggvason. He holds a wooden vessel with three decapitated heads and a stone in it. Why? There is a Swedish legend about a miracle. While Sigurd was traveling, his three helpers (or nephews) were murdered and beheaded. Their heads were placed in a wooden vessel and sunk in a lake. When Sigurd passed by the lake, the heads floated to the surface and told him who murdered him. The heads were actually modeled after three architects! The book was worth every NOK just for this information…

west front sculptures, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim


There are a total of 76 west front sculptures. Only five of the original sculptures survived when restoration began in 1869 and can be seen in the Archbishop’s Palace. From the central axis, the apostles appear on either side of the crucifixion, and at the end of the row are the champions of Christianity in Norway and Europe. King Olav, Bishop Sigrud, St. Clemen at one end. St. Nicasius, St. Denis and St. Francis on the other end. King Olav Tryggvason (968-1000) was originally a heathen Viking who carried out raids in England. He eventually was baptized and converted to Christianity. Olav founded Trondheim and is represented as a warrior with a sword in his hands. Between his feet lies the head of an idol symbolizing the defeated pagan religion.

Nidaros west front sculpture of King Olav, Trondheim

west front sculptures portraying different virtues, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim

Nidaros Cathedral sculpture, Trondheim


Another row above that contained groups portraying different virtues ( Truth, mercy, etc.), Adam and Eve, the Angel Gabriel…yadda-yadda.  I am not going to name all 76 statues!

There was one last row with 16 statues representing Old Testament Kings of Israel, prophets and patriarchs.

patriarch Abraham sculpture, west front Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim


Nidaros Cathedral has become a magnet for “pilgrims” who make their way here primarily from Sweden. There is great interest in signposting and walking the old pilgrim paths to Nidaros a la Santiago de Compostela. Without time to enter the cathedral, we began walking back. Hurtigruten has a strict policy about sailing times. Beware! Be back on board at the posted time or the ship will sail without you. Passengers then have to find their way to the next port on their own. No exceptions. It broke my heart to pass nice hotels, cafes, and stores that had attractive window displays, sales going on with no time to linger. And, we never did get to the fish market where boats to Munkolmen Island (Monk’s island) leave or see the old houses. Just as well because the original weather forecast was wrong. Much colder, and we were getting chilled even though getting back to the ship was faster now that we knew the way.

The Midnatsol set sail for Rorvik where southbound and northbound coastal ships meet. Just another one of Hurtigruten’s 34 ports with no shore excursions available that I recall. Lots and lots of young passengers studying Maritime Management as a career came aboard in Trondheim where they’ll remain for several days before disembarking in Tromso. Farvel, Trondheim.


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