When pilgrims walk the fjord route of S:T Olavsleden, they will encounter a Medieval Church and a very impressive burial mound after passing through Levanger. The Church and burial mound is located on a moraine rigde with magnificent views over the fjord and land in all directions. The burial mound is on the highest spot, with the Church right next to it. They look like gems in the landscape.
Dendrochronology analysis tells us that the timber of the rafters of Alstadhaug Church was felled in 1166-1167 AD. The construction of the Church was finished some years later. It’s built in the transition period between Roman and Gothic architecture, and has some later elements inspired by the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.
But it’s not only the Church, but the history of the place itself in connection with the surrounding landscape that is for me the most interesting.
In pagan times both the local Thing and the regional Hov was located where the Church is now. The truly enormous burial mound “Olvishaugen” is located in the cemetery. It got it’s name from the chieftain name Alvi or Ølvi, meaning “the almighty”. It’s common for burial mounds to have people’s names. That does not mean that it is the name of the actual person buried in the mound. Some times archaeological excavations reveal that the mound is dated to a different period than the stories about it says. It’s usually older than in the stories. It is extremely difficult and rare to know from archaeological material the name of the person in the mound. And in this case we don’t know. Olvishaugen itself has not been excavated. It measures 55 metres across and has a hight of almost 6 metres. This makes it one of the biggest burial mounds in Norway.
This cult site is probably as old as the Roman iron age. Other rich archaeological finds like traces of iron production, more burial mounds and a hill fort is found in the same area, and all of it dates to the Roman period.
I’ve mentioned the connection between pagan cult sites, burial mounds and churches before, and this is what we in Norway call a school book example. This region, called Innherred or Inntrøndelag (Inner Trøndelag) is an ancient region of power, with several rich archaeological finds from the bronze age, early iron age and Roman period and onwards supporting the claim. Iron production for export, fertile land and good communications on the fjord is part of what have made this region a political and religious center through the ages.
Knowing the historical context of sites like these gives me a much deeper and more enjoyable experience when visiting them. And by visiting them, we make a part of their history too.