Posted by: Catholic of Thule | July 16, 2010

Traditional pilgrimage in Røldal.

The traditional pilgrimage in Røldal on 6th July was an absolutely wonderful experience!

A some may know, Røldal was the second largest pilgrimage site in medieval Norway. The object of particular veneration in Røldal was a crucifix that would sweat on Midsummer’s Eve and through which God would grant graces of healing. The crucifix, dating from around 1250 still hangs in the old stave church, the oldest part of which dates from between 1200 and 1250. The pilgrimages continued long after the reformation in 1537. According to the guide, the people of Røldal adhered for a very long time in practice to the Catholic faith with regard to many aspects of their popular faith. The minister was not resident in Røldal and only visited a few times every year and so had only a limited impact on the beliefs held by his parishioners in the valley. The pilgrimages continued, even though there were attempts by various bishops to put an end to them. After a minister had exposed their continued practice in the 1835, however, the ban was more effectively imposed, and sometime after this Røldal received its own resident Lutheran pastor. As late as the 1850s, the resident pastor turned away people who came to pray before the crucifix. The first Catholic parish since the reformation was established in Christiania (present day Oslo) in 1843, and our able guide read aloud from an article which raised some speculations with regard to what might have been the result if at that time a Catholic parish had been established in Røldal instead.

To return to the present day, there have been Catholic Masses in Røldal stave church around the beginning of July a few times in the last few years, and Catholic pilgrims have thus taken up the old tradition even if not on Midsummer’s Eve itself. Pilgrimages to Røldal have also become popular among Protestant denominations. I attended a Mass there in July 2006 together with a good friend of mine, and it was a memorable experience.

This year, eager souls at St. Paul’s parish in Bergen had arranged for a traditional Mass to be celebrated in Røldal. They were not even put off by the fact that most priests in Norway who are able to say the traditional Latin Mass were either away or had sole responsibility for their parishes and thus unable to travel. They just brought over a priest from the US instead, Father Joseph Santos!

The evening began with a guided tour in Røldal stave church, after which we all had dinner together. The extra fuel was needed for the long walk that followed. We drove to the start of our pilgrimage, and walked the last 6 km of the old pilgrimage route to the church. The terrain was uneven and challenging at times, and I was greatly impressed by some elderly people who strove through the entire route with walking sticks and a little help! The pace was set to accommodate people of all ages and in various states of health, with a few stops for meditation, prayer and song, and there were a good number of children present too. The walk was very ably arranged and all were looked after. Personally, I had been hesitant to take part in the walk, due to my M.E., but was very happy that I did and could sense a lot of graces from it. This time I also had a good friend from Ireland with me, and I think we were both quite happy that nobody had arranged for us to end the walk in the traditional fashion, i.e. on our hands and knees down the hillside!!!

When we returned, there was a short break before we gathered for Mass. And the traditional Mass in the old stave church was an amazing experience!!! My mother, who is not Catholic and has never attended a traditional Mass before, also thought it was beautiful. The church retains the ad orientem orientation of the altar and altar rails, and appears to lend itself with ease to the celebration of the traditional Mass. I truly hope that the good people of St. Paul’s will arrange another pilgrimage with a traditional Mass in Røldal next year! Many many thanks to all involved!!!

There was a photographer/journalist from the Christian paper Vårt Land present, and the paper have posted a series of images from the pilgrimage on their website. 🙂



  1. What a fascinating post! It sounds like an incredible pilgrimage and opportunity and one I would love to participate in someday now that I’m aware of it!
    I find it interesting to learn that Norway has such a rich Catholic heritage!
    Thank you for posting this, I really enjoyed reading it!
    Hope you do have a chance to make this pilgrimage again next July!
    Ha en fin helg. 🙂

  2. We need a bunch of :cloud9: emoticons for this post! Røldal is such a beautiful church — it was one of the highlights of my visit. That, and your mother’s cooking… 😀

  3. Thank you Kirsten; very interesting, and thank you for some positive news from Norway.

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