Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Olaus, or Olave, King of Norway, Martyr

[Saint Olaf II]Article

He was son of Herald Grenscius, prince of Westfold in Norway, by his wife, Asta, daughter of Gulbrand Kuta, governor of Gulbrand’s Dale or Valley. He delivered his country from the tyranny under which the Swedes and Danes had for some time held it, whilst Norway was divided between Sweno, king of Denmark, Olave Scot-Konung, son of Eric, king of Sweden, and Eric, son of Hacon Earl of Norway. In 1013, he sailed to England, and successfully assisted king Ethelred against the Danes after the death of Sueno or Swayn their king. He afterwards waged war against Olaus Scot-Konung, king of Sweden, till, making an advantageous peace, he took to wife the daughter of that king. These two princes about that time introduced the Romescot, a small annual tribute yearly to be paid to the apostolic see. Saint Olave brought over from England several pious and learned priests and monks, one of whom, named Grimkele, was chosen bishop of Drontheim, his capital. The holy king did nothing without the advice of this prelate, and by his counsels published many wholesome laws, and abolished such ancient laws and customs as were contrary to the Gospel; which he did not only in Norway, but also in the isles of Orkney and of Iceland; though the entire conquest of Orkney was reserved to his son Magnus, who also subdued the isle of Man, as Camden relates from the ancient Chronicle of Man.

Our religious king having settled his dominions in peace, set himself to extirpate out of them the abominable superstitions of idolatry. He travelled in person from town to town, exhorting his subjects to open the eyes of their souls to the bright light of faith. A company of zealous preachers attended him, and he demolished in many places the idolatrous temples. The heathens rebelled, and with the assistance of Canutus the Great, defeated and expelled him. Saint Olave fled into Russia, whence he soon after returned, and raised an army in order to recover his kingdom, but was slain by his rebellious and infidel subjects in a battle fought at Stichstadt, north of Drontheim, on the 29th of July, 1030, having reigned sixteen years. These rebels seem to have been in the interest of Canute the Great, who arrived from England in Norway, took possession of that kingdom, and left his nephew Hackin viceroy, but he being soon after drowned at sea, Canute made his son Sweno viceroy of Norway. Saint Olave’s body was honourably buried at Drontheim, and the year following bishop Grimkele commanded him to be honoured in that church among the saints with the title of martyr. His son Magnus was called home from Russia in 1035, and restored to the throne. Sweno, who saw himself entirely abandoned, fled into Sweden. Magnus exceedingly promoted the devotion of the people to the memory of his father, the martyr, who was chosen titular saint of the cathedral of Drontheim. This church was rebuilt with such splendour and magnificence, as to have been the glory and pride of all the North. Munster has given us a minute description of it, after Lutheranism was introduced; but it was soon after burnt by lightning. The body of Saint Olave was found incorrupt in 1098; and again when the Lutherans in 1541, plundered the shrine, which was adorned with gold and jewels of an immense value, a treasure no where equalled in the North. The ship which carried the greater part of this sacrilegious booty perished at sea in the road to Denmark; the rest was robbed at land, so that nothing of it came into the king of Denmark’s hands. The Lutherans treated the saint’s body with respect, and left it in the same place where the shrine had stood, in the inner wooden case, till in 1568 they decently buried it in the same cathedral. A shirt or inner garment of Saint Olave’s is shown at Saint Victor’s in Paris. His shrine became famous by many miracles, and he was honoured with extraordinary devotion throughout all the northern kingdoms, and was titular saint of several churches in England and Scotland. He was called by our ancestors Saint Olave, and more frequently Saint Tooley; but in the Norway Chronicles Olaf Haraldson, and Olaf Helge or the Holy.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Olaus, or Olave, King of Norway, Martyr”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 3 July 2014. Web. 23 September 2014. <>