Ethnographic heritage

on the ways to Trondheim

This pilot aims to see heritage in a perspective of how people have lived their lives along the St. Olav’s ways, the pilgrims paths to Trondheim (Norway) and make accessible how cultural, religious and societal aspects contribute to rich historical heritage also in the vicinity of the pilgrimage path. The pilot will focus specifically on Gudbrandsdalsleden, the first of many St. Olav Ways. Since it runs through Dovre and Reinheimen national parks there is potential to develop natural heritage sites along the routes, too. The rurAllure partner NTNU is located along the western route of the Gudbrandsdalsleden in Gjøvik and by Nidaros in Trondheim. Norwegian associated partners are located along the western route of the Gudbrandsdalsleden path, or right along the route in the Lillehammer area.

Table of Contents

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


In Nidaros, Trondheim, the pilgrimages to St. Olav’s shrine started right after his death at Stiklestad in 1030. It quickly became known that he was a holy man and in 1031 he was declared a saint. The first witness about this is a poem by Torarin Lovtunge from 1031-35. He was the bard of king Olav’s enemy, the Danish king Knut. He encouraged the king to pray for St. Olav’s intercessions. Within a few years the pilgrimage to St. Olav’s shrine was so strongly consolidated that it became known far out in Europa. During these first years the Church in Nidaros, Trondheim, belonged to the Archbishopric of Hamburg/Bremen. The king Oistein Magnussen, in the 1120s, built shelters for pilgrims in several places on the Dovre mountain’s plateau. The care for the pilgrims was so important that there was a detailed regulation for the stay in these pilgrim shelters in the Norwegian legislation. During the 13th century the first church was built. When the Lutheran reformation reached Norway in 1537, pilgrimages were banned. Only in the 20th century people started again to come to Trondheim as pilgrims, especially after the 1980s. Gudbrandsdalsleden was officially opened by HRH Crown prince in 1997. Today the St. Olav Ways – the pilgrim paths to Trondheim in Norway, Denmark and Sweden are signposted with the St. Olav logo and have received the status as European Cultural Route under the Council of Europe’s Cultural Route program.

Key Stakeholders

The National Pilgrim Centre (Nasjonalt Pilegrimssenter, NPS) is responsible for the public pilgrimage development in Norway, coordinating and prioritising tasks and resources. The public pilgrim routes in Norway are meant to function as incubators for positive and sustainable development. The pilgrimage will contribute to value creation and positive development, open and inclusive to people of different faiths, cultures and traditions. NPS is organized as a department in Nidaro’s Cathedral Restoration work, which is a government agency under the Ministry of Culture.

Geographical coverage

The main route is approximately 640 kilometres long. It starts in the ancient part of Oslo and heads north along the lake Mjøsa, up the Gudbrandsdal valley, over the Dovrefjell mountains, and down the Oppdal and Gauldalen valleys to end at the Nidaros Cathedral.


Relationship with other routes

Through the status as a European Cultural Route of the Council of Europe, the St. Olav Ways cooperate with other Cultural Routes in Europe. There is also cooperation with national paths and both regional and local routes. Historically, St. Olav Ways were connected to the routes to Santiago de Compostela and Rome through the Danish Hærvejen (sometimes referred to in English as “the Ox Road”), an ancient trackway in Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein (Germany). The route runs from Viborg via Flensburg to Hamburg. “Pilgrims Crossing Borders” was a 2015 initiative of organised pilgrimage from Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim to Rome covering a distance of 3000 km.

Key locations and cultural assets along the main paths

Gudbrandsdalsleden has countless cultural heritage stories and places to offer, many hundreds are on or close to the path, and remind of past struggles and experiences. Pilgrims can find tombs, historically important sites, beautiful churches and preserved buildings from the Middle Ages, such as a building at Sygard Grytting which housed pilgrims in the 12th century. Gudbrandsdalsleden also gives close contact with the legacy of the Viking king Olav Haraldsson, later known as Saint Olav. Water springs are widespread and are known to have healing effects. Along Gudbrandsdalsleden are the historical sites St. Hallvard Cathedral, Bønsnes, Granavollen, Hamardomen and Dale-Gudbrands Gard. The pilgrimage route crosses the national park of Dovre with a rich natural heritage.

Current status of development and promotion

The St. Olav’s Ways are well developed and promoted with a steady rise in the number of pilgrims on all parts. The recognition as a Cultural Route by the Council of Europe provided decisive support to relive the Medieval tradition. Pilgrims are counted in the hundreds, not yet thousands (detailed statistics on pilgrims and visits can be found here) so there is potential for more regional development of locations along the route and in accordance with the route. There is a Pilgrim’s Office in Oslo which gives advice to travelers and a Pilgrim Centre in Trondheim, under the aegis of the Nidaros Cathedral, which awards certificates to successful travelers upon the completion of their journey.

Rural surroundings

The region of Innlandet is a sparsely populated, mountainous region of Norway rich in cultural and natural heritage. There are approximately 370.000 inhabitants on 52.590 km2. Much of the population is centered around the lake Mjøsa with regional centres in the towns of Hamar, Gjøvik and Lillehammer. The region has a lower birth rate than the rest of Norway and is home to most cabins/secondary homes of all Norwegian regions with a total of 89.212, and is also home to 11 national parks. The region has many famous destinations and tourism is an important part of the economy. Other important economic activities are public sector, retail, construction, hotels and restaurants, farming and food production, logging and wood-based industries, industrial parks, higher education and research, IT, gaming and VR companies and hydro power. The main challenge for the Innlandet region in workplace development is a sector structure comprising a large proportion of industries that provide either low-value or that is in decline. There are few industries in Innland that are in national growth.

Nearby heritage missed by (most) pilgrims

Mjøsmuseet / Gjøvik glasværk. Mjøsmuseet / Mjøsas ark. Ethnographic and historical collection and exhibition thematically linked to the lake Mjøsa; Mjøsmuseet / Gjøvik gård.

Skibladner, the world’s oldest preserved paddle steamer in timetabled service, serving as official pilgrims’ ship.

Lillehammer museum / Maihaugen: Large collection of historic buildings including medieval church buildings in the Norwegian tradition of stave churches.

Lillehammer museum / Sigrid Undset’s home – Bjerkebæk: The nobel laureate author’s home.

The national park of Reinsheimen, adjacent to Dovre national park, with glacial archaeology.

Historical farms and industrial sites.

Rock Art, Iron Ores and Chalk burning sites.

Kistefos-Museet museum; Aukrustsenteret (multi-artist Kjell Aukrust’s museum); Museum for Forest Finn Culture in Norway; Norwegian Railway Museum; Norwegian Road and Mjøsmuseet museums.

Maihaugen; Memory Park Dombås; Hjerleid.

Current needs and opportunities in cultural and touristic promotion

St. Olav’s Ways run right next to many sites of cultural and natural heritage interest, many of them unknown to pilgrims and the public, but with great potential for providing enlightenment and added value to pilgrimages, offering new contexts and experiences. There is also a potential reciprocity in informing and enlightening the visitors to adjacent cities about the pilgrimage route, the role of the route in history and present times and the opportunities for pilgrimage and tourism and contemplation along the routes. Pilgrimages are a form of sustainable tourism that can be further developed and put into a larger context of cultural and natural heritage for mutual benefit. Although a pilgrimage is a contemplative experience on foot in a physical environment and perhaps without digital technology as distractions, there is opportunity for adding digital experiences both in the planning phases of a pilgrimage scenario and as a means for making cultural and natural heritage accessible, also for people not being able to go on a pilgrimage (this might be from reasons of disabilities or resources). Digital dissemination can augment the experience both for people present on the site and remotely and it can add understanding and contextual layers of meaning to aspects of cultural and natural heritage. Digital dissemination can also be effective in promoting the routes and adjacent heritage sites as possible destinations and tourist attractions.

Strengths & opportunities

  • Strong tourist and winter sports region with large areas of unspoiled nature.

  • Standing condition of Cultural Route recognised by the Council of Europe.

Weaknesses & threats

  • Fewer tourists in the summer season.

  • Some sites are not so accessible.