Norway is, and increasingly becoming a multi-cultural society. It is mainly a secular Christian country, but what about other religions here? The Foreigner launches the first of several articles today.
Olav Tryggvason, the great-grandson of the first king of Norway, returned from England to Norway on a royal mission in 995, ruling the country from then. He landed at Moster, an island off the west coast, where he celebrated mass in a tent and thereby introduced Christianity. There had been no organised religion in the country until that time, though the Vikings had beliefs that have been passed down in Icelandic Sagas written by Snorri Sturlusson and Sæmundeur Sigfüsson.
By 1030, Christianity had spread across the country. Norway gained its first Saint with the killing of Christian Viking King Olav II at the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. Building of a Cathedral began in 1070 over St. Olav’s grave at Nidaros, now Trondheim. By 1152, Nidaros was the seat of a powerful Archbishop, and Norway was a Christian, Catholic country.
The Reformation swept across Norway four centuries on. In 1537, the Church of Norway became Lutheran. Lutheranism was so prevalent by 1814, that the Constitution signed 17 May that year specified it as the State religion, commanding parents to bring up their children in the faith.
Norway’s constitution also barred Jesuits, monastic orders and Jews from the country. The stipulation of a State Protestant Church, and the barring of Catholic orders, might have come from the beliefs of the Reformation, when monasteries and convents had been closed and Catholics had been banned. The reasons for banning Jews are less clear and are debated to this day.
The constitutional restrictions were repealed in steps, the first in 1851 and the last in 1956. Norway has become increasingly secular since then, and there are many faiths. Accordingly, Christianity, a compulsory subject in schools, was replaced in the 1990s by ‘Christianity, Religion and Ethics’.
In May 2012, the Constitution was amended to separate the Church of Norway from the State, formally making Norway a secular country with no official religion.
About a tenth of the population today are immigrants, who have brought in other religions – most noticeably Islam, now the second most practiced religion in the country.
That said, the Church of Norway remains the country’s dominant faith by membership. It aims to be an inclusive church, open to all, welcoming new members who have been baptised and hold permanent resident permits.
Services are held on Sundays, usually at 11 am, and several times a day on major church holidays such as Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. Programmes of services are announced two or three days in advance – usually under Gudstjenester or Kirker in local newspapers – as well as for entire months or seasons of the year in leaflets in the vestibules or on the websites of most churches.
The liturgy is Evangelical Lutheran and varies from high mass to less formal services for families with small children. Most parishes support other religious activities, such as Sunday Schools, youth groups and care for the elderly. For further details contact the nearest parish.
- Church of Norway membership 3.9 million, about 77% of the population.
- 11 dioceses
- 1,260 parishes or congregations
- 1600 churches or chapels
Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles on religion in Norway. Subsequent articles will be dedicated to religions other than the Lutheran Church of Norway.
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