Holy wells in Norway

How are the Norwegian wells revived and used by people today? The Norwegian wells are primarily attributed the national Saint Olav and appeared in the middle ages in the time after king Olav Haraldsson’s death in 1030 and following his emerging sainthood. Today they are scattered all over the Norwegian geography. As elsewhere in Europe, these wells became famous for their healing water, for pilgrimages to the wells, narrating stories about the attributed and for ritualized practices in connection to the wells. Such practices were suppressed and eventually prohibited in Norway as a result of the protestant reformation. Today, many wells are being re-discovered, restored and becoming part of new practices. During the summer of 2020 and 2021 I have travelled around Norway in search of wells, their places, and practices.

Holy well near Hafslo on the west coast of Norway, with homemade crosses placed by the well by visitors. Most often, these wells can be found in what today are regarded as remote areas in the Norwegian landscape like mountains and woods. Historically, however, they were part of central roads and travelling paths which ensured a constant flow of pilgrims and visitors. Photo: Ane Ohrvik
The Saint Olav’s well close to Nidaros Cathedral and central to the pilgrim route of Trondheim, the main pilgrimage destination in Norway. This is one of the very few wells that have been “domesticated” into a modern water fountain for drinking. Photo: Ane Ohrvik
Some wells are part of hiking routes as this one, placed on top of a mountain in the south of Norway. Photo: Ane Ohrvik
Saint Olav wells also appear in digital gaming apps like Geocaching. The apps guide the users by way of GPS coordinates to the wells, and as this map shows many of Saint Olav wells are now part of scavenger hunts like Geocaching. Their somewhat remote placement in the landscape makes them perpect “caches” for a geocacher trail. Map: Anna Karlsson