Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pilgrims along the way

St. Olave’s Wirral-Chester Viking walk
by Stein Thue
With 20 fellow pilgrims,  Kjell Skartseterhagen, pastor from Nittedal (close to Oslo) and Stein Thue, representing the City of Trondheim, joined in the pilgrim walk from Neston to Chester in England.
Wirral Viking Walk
The map shows the route for the walk in honour of Saint Olav to Chester
In the English town of Chester, just north of Wales, we find St Olave's Church, a church from the 14th century named after Saint Olav, the patron saint of Norway. It stands confidently in its place on St Olave Street, but begging for rehabilitation and use. This summer a group of English friends of Norway arranged a pilgrim’s walk here to commemorate Saint Olav's Day on 29 July. Perhaps this celebration may speed up the restoration this cultural monument deserves.
Banished VikingsOn the Wirral peninsula between the rivers Mersey and Dee (see map), place names such as Meols (Old Norse: melr – sand dunes), Neston (old Norse: Nesstún – farmstead near the promontory) and Thingwall (Old Norse: þing vollr – assembly field) bear witness to an earlier settlement of Norwegian Vikings. They came here from Ireland after being banished from Dublin by their own compatriots. Anglo-Saxon Queen Æthelflæd granted these immigrants land by the mouth of the Dee early in the 900s.
Today, this region is called Little Scandinavia by the locals. And here Scandinavians and the British have coexisted more or less peacefully for centuries. Recent genetic research on Cestrians (natives of Chester) and Liverpudlians (natives of Liverpool) shows that some of them have Norwegian ancestry.
Norwegian sailors brought their traditions to Liverpool. One of these was the Norwegian dish "lapskaus" (stew) – and from this word comes "scouse". This term is commonly used by Liverpudlians to mean the dialect as well as the local population in this the city that is the proud home of the Beatles.
Cheerful Chester Pilgrims
Cheerful Chester Pilgrims

Saint Olav's Day walk with royal pilgrim guide
In recent years, English friends of Norway, led by Professor Stephen Harding from the University of Nottingham, have arranged Saint Olav's Day walks to St. Olave's Church in Chester. This year, Kjell Skartseterhagen, formerly pilgrim pastor at Nidaros (now a pastor at Nittedal near Oslo), and the undersigned were invited to join the walk.
Skartseterhagen had just finished guiding the Norwegian Crown Prince and his wife along part of the pilgrim path to Trondheim when he set course for England to accompany the English pilgrims.
On 31 July, when the walk started from St. Mary and St. Helen's church in Neston, Skartseterhagen spoke about the seven pilgrim principles: freedom, simplicity, slowness, silence, light-heartedness, sharing and spirituality.

“Bear in mind that the way home is also part of the pilgrimage,” the pilgrim pastor reminded his devout listeners, giving a deeper tone to their thoughts. Then the pilgrims commenced their walk to the Olav church in Chester, a distance of 20 kilometres.
The King who crossed the North SeaThe pilgrimage also entered Wales for some kilometres (see map), where the road signs are in two languages. We learn that "Welcome to Wales" is "Croeso i Gymru" in Welsh. It is time to stop and rest. While we eat our packed lunches, the pilgrim pastor tells about the life of Saint Olav to a very attentive audience.
Later we present a gift from the old city of Trondheim to our hosts. It is a concrete and symbolic reminder of the cultural exchange between our two countries: A copy of a king from the Lewis chessmen, in all probability made in Trondheim in the 12th century. A farmer found them in a sandbank on the island of Lewis in the Hebrides in 1831. Researchers believe that the chessmen were made by a stonemason working at the Church of Christ in Nidaros (the old name of Trondheim).

  Click to see the Lewis Chessmen
The originals – carved from walrus teeth – are kept in the British Museum and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. The chessman is received with admiration and smiles, not least because it says "Made in Great Britain" on the underside, even though the original was made in Trondheim and that the copy was obtained from the Visitors’ Centre at Nidaros Cathedral in - Trondheim. 
The Lewis chessmen
Curator Lyndsay McGill with a selection of the original chessmen from Lewis/Trondheim.
Photo courtesy by Steve Lindridge, National Museum of Scotland
Beauty Around UsWe continue our walk along the Dee, or Deva Fluvius as the Romans called it two thousand years ago. Soon we see the Roman city wall, the best kept in Great Britain. The Olav church is now right around the corner, but it is closed because of on-going construction work. So we improvise a simple farewell ceremony on St Olave Street. Here the "Vikings" perform two stanzas of 'Deilig er jorden', a Norwegian hymn, and it appears that the message is understood. Perhaps heavenly tones could be heard in this joyful pilgrim song?
The pilgrim pastor blessed the participants and then invited the host to take refreshments in the pub across the road, eminently suitable, even for pilgrims. Before we say our goodbyes and part our ways, we salute each other with a "Skol", Cheers for Chester and Pax et bonum.
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