Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Notes - Erection of the Archdiocese of Nidaros, Norway

Due to a lack of adequate contemporary sources, there is some uncertainty regarding the erection of the Archdiocese of Nidaros. The two most important issues that continue to cause debate among historians are Bishop Reidar's journey to Rome in 1150 and the exact date of the erection of the Archdiocese.

Bishop Reidar's journey to Rome

In 1150, Bishop Reidar of Nidaros travelled to Rome to be receive the pallium from the Pope. He died in " Southern lands" in 1151, before he could return to Norway. A medieval Icelandic list of the Archbishops of Nidaros mention him as the first one, while other lists mention Jon Birgisson as the first Archbishop. This means that we have a situation were the Archdiocese may have been erected de iure in 1150/51, with a vacancy until 1152.

Andreas Holmsen (Holmsen 1977) states that he was consecrated as Archbishop by Pope St Leo IX, and that he died on the way home. He further writes that it is not known whether the initiative for the journey was taken by the Norwegian bishops or by the Holy See.

Erik Gunnes (Gunnes 1976) is not as certain about the outcome of the journey as Holmsen. He writes that it is an open question whether or not Reidar was consecrated as Archbishop of Nidaros, and that the only thing we know with certainty is that he died before he could return to Norway. He indicates that Reidar was probably not consecrated, as the normal procedure in such matters was the the Holy See looked into the matter in some detail. There is no mention of any representative of the Holy See travelling to Norway in the years preceding 1150, but in 1152 Cardinal Nicholas Brekespear was sent to evaluate the situation and, if he deemed it appropriate, consecrate an Archibishop of Nidaros.

To us, it seems unlikely that the Holy See would consecrate Reidar under the prevailing circumstances. After the death of King Harald Gille in 1136, his three sons had been fighting over the throne, and the country was more or less in a state of civil war. We deem it much more likely that the Holy See decided to send a representative to Norway before the final decision was made in the matter. Furthermore, it seems that Nicholas Brekespeare hesitated to consecrate an Archbishop, indicating that he was not merely filling a vacancy but rather was consecrating the first Archbishop of a new Archdiocese. Therefore, we place the erection of the Archdiocese of Nidaros in the time of Brekespear's visit to Norway.

The date of the erection of the Archdiocese of Nidaros

The English Cardinal Nicholas Brekespear, later Pope Adrian IV (1154-1159), was sent to Norway as a papal legate with the authority to consecrate an Archbishop in 1152. The sources give some information about his work in the country, but they are too vague to provide a certain date for the erection of the Archdiocese - the question is whether the Archbishop was consecrated in 1152 or 1153.

Information in Icelandic annals have led some historians to believe that the papal legate managed to complete his mission in the summer and autumn of 1152. Later research, presented by among others Erik Gunnes (Gunnes 1996), concludes that he stayed in Norway through the winter of 1152/53, and that the consecration took place in 1153. This is based on an analysis of his probable movements in Norway. As it is almost certain that he travelled via England, his homeland and a common route to Norway from the continent, he would have arrived at Stavanger. He must have met with the Bishop of Stavanger and received the first report on the status of the Church in Norway. He then had to start negotitations with the kings. This must have taken some time, since grave matters were discussed - we know from the Icelandic annals that both King Sigurd and King Øystein had committed acts that demanded penance and reconciliation with the Church. In Sigurd's case, this most likely concerns his intimate affair with his cousin Kristin; with Øystein it may have been his attacks on, and pillage of, British coastal villages and the monastery of Whitby. He also reformed the abuses that had found their way into the Norwegian Church. After seeing to these matters, they called for a Church- and National Council, and this can hardly have been done earlier than the autumn of 1152. Because of the long distances and the difficulty in travel across the Norwegian mountains, the council is unlikely to have taken place until after New Year 1153, and this places the erection of the Archdiocese in that year. It is thought that he arrived in Sweden in April or May 1153, indicating that he did indeed have to stay in Norway for the winter.

Based on this information, we think that it is unlikely that Brekespear could have consecrated the Archbishop in 1152, and therefore place the erection of the Archdiocese of Nidaros in 1153.


av Webmaster publisert 08.09.2004, sist endret 08.09.2004 - 12:10