The Church

The word "church" (Norwegian "kirke") derives from the Greek "kyriaké" - that which belongs to the Lord, Kyrios. The church building is not only a holy place for believers, it is also an expression of the ancient narrative of the life of man beneath God's heaven. In Norway, the building of churches and the building of the state went hand in hand, and churches are cultural historical markers that belong to all people.


Oslo Cathedral (formerly the Church of Our Saviour) was completed in 1697 and is the city's third cathedral. But the history of the Cathedral stretches back more than nine hundred years to the 12th century and medieval Oslo. No other current institution shares a longer history with the city of Oslo.


Hallvard's Church:
Oslo's first cathedral, Hallvard's Church (the picture shows a reconstruction of this church), was built in the first half of the 12th century by the crusader, Sigurd Jorsalfarer (Norwegian king 1103-1130). The beautiful church raised in honour of Oslo's patron saint, St. Hallvard, stood on a sandbank where two river mouths opened into the sea on the edge of the then small medieval town. The king wanted to extend his power and spread the Christian faith and big and small churches were built throughout the land. The architecture of Hallvard's Church differed from any other large cathedral in Norway at the time. Whereas the architecture of Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger cathedrals was influenced by ideas from the West, the builders in Oslo looked to the South and East for inspiration and the church was given a nave, aisles and transepts, as was the trend in Southern Europe. Oslo's first cathedral later became a model for church architecture throughout the country, as witnessed by Gamle Aker Church (Oslo), Nikolai Church in Hadeland and the ruins of the cathedral in Hamar.

For the next five hundred years, Hallvard's Church served as the bishop's see and was the most important church in the capital. But these were unsettled years in the town and country as a whole and Oslo was besieged, plundered and burnt down on numerous occasions. In 1624, King Christian IV (Dano-Norwegian king 1588-1648) ordered that the whole town be moved westwards, so that it could be protected by the Akershus fort. The baroque town built in the shadows of the fortress walls was given the name, Christiania (today, the part of town known as Kvadraturen). The old town of Oslo and Hallvard's Church were left to ruin and a second cathedral was constructed in the heart of the new city. Building materials for this great work were taken from Hallvard's Church, among other places, and finally the underground foundations were all that remained of what had once been a splendid church.


The Holy Trinity Church:
Oslo's second cathedral was consecrated in 1639. The Holy Trinity Church had a central location by the market place (today Christiania torg), the highest point in the new town, with the cathedral school and the town hall as its closest neighbours. The church was a vaulted central church with a tower in the middle, the first of its kind in Scandinavia. Christian IV took a deep personal interest in the new cathedral and it was richly decorated with sculptures and ornaments, both inside and out.

If Hallvard's Church is the cathedral that nearly disappeared, the Holy Trinity Church is the cathedral that was completely lost. On April 21st 1686, less than fifty years after it was completed, the beautiful church was struck by lightning and burnt. The damage was allegedly not too extensive and the church could probably have been rebuilt, but the commanding officer at Akershus fort demanded that it be demolished. Its proximity to the fort had proved problematic, among other things, because the church tower got in the way of the canons on the ramparts.


Church of Our Saviour:
When the capital was to build its third cathedral, a site was chosen outside the city walls (today Karl Johans gate), where the main road from Old Oslo entered the town. For some time, a lively market had been thriving here (today Stortorget), where farmers from all over the region came to sell their wares to the townsfolk. The landscape was very different on those days: the shoreline was higher and parts of what are now Vaterland and Grønland lay under water. The church was built on a knoll where a bastion had previously stood, down towards the sea, in area of meadows and bogs where animals grazed. Work to level the ground started in 1692 and the church undercroft was excavated right down to the bedrock in order to protect the building against subsidence on the unstable ground.

The town's third cathedral was to be a cruciform church in Dutch Baroque style. At the time, money was short in the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and Christiania was of less political importance than when the last cathedral had been built. King Christian V (Dano-Norwegian king 1670-1699) gave orders from Copen­hagen that the church should be built without "Snurreficia" or "Zirather" - i.e. decorations.