Progress along St. Olav’s Way

Our virtual pilgrim’s dispatch from her journey to Nidaros

Photo: Eidsvoll Kirke is just one of the lovely places you’ll walk past on your virtual pilgrimage.

Eidsvoll Kirke is just one of the lovely places you’ll walk past on your virtual pilgrimage.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

My first progress report appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of NAW. I had begun my Sons of Norway Virtual Pilgrimage at Leg A, Checkpoint #1 in Oslo, and I had arrived at Checkpoint #2. I had virtually visited several places in Oslo and then made stops in Gjelleråsen and Skjetten.

I have continued my pilgrimage and have now completed Leg A. Let me share with you some of the highlights on this part of my journey.

I learned that Lillestrøm used to be a swampy area. Its name means “little stream.” Today it is an important transportation center with high-speed trains passing through.

Norges Varemesse (Norway Trade Fairs, est. 1918) moved from Oslo to Lillestrøm in 2002. HM King Harald presided at the official opening on Sept. 4. It is an ultra-modern exhibition and congress center and has become Norway’s prime meeting place.

I then left Lillestrøm and headed toward Kjeller, a village located ten miles north-northeast of Oslo in the municipality of Skedsmo.

Norway’s first airport was built here in 1912 to aid the Norwegian Army Air Service. It was greatly expanded a few years later when WWI broke out. The Germans took it over when they occupied Norway in World War II. Today, the airport serves the military as well as small plane general aviation.

Norway has two nuclear research reactors, and one is here in Kjeller (the other one is in Halden). This reactor opened in 1951 and is a joint project of the Dutch and Norwegian governments.

Kjeller is also home to the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), an independent, nonprofit institution established in 1969. NILU plays an active role in the research programs of the EU and is dedicated to increasing public awareness about climate change and environmental pollution.

Before he became king, Olav II (later St. Olaf) had converted to Christianity and throughout his rule he traveled Norway, forcing his subjects to convert. In 1022 he arrived in Skedsmo with his army and defeated the local tribe. After the battle, he built a wooden church here. This church was replaced with a stone church in 1180 and is today the oldest building in Skedsmo. Services are still held here every Sunday. Inside this church you will see a wooden statue of St. Olav.

After visiting St. Olav’s church in Skedsmo, I walked to Frogner, a small town in the Sørum municipality.

The oldest boat in Norway, which dates back to 170 B.C., was found in Frogner in the 1990s near the Glomma River. To see it today, however, you have to go to the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo.

Arteid Vestre, Kløfta (overnight location)
Kløfta is a village with a population of 8,000 people. I spent the night here at the Arteid Vestre farm, a restored storehouse (stabbur) used as a hostel for pilgrims. It has three rooms and sleeps seven people. It has a living room, kitchen, and shared bathroom. The charge per person per night is 100 kroner ($15). It is approved by Norway’s National Pilgrim Center.

Augustus Hilton was born here in Kløfta. He was the father of Conrad Hilton, the founder of the Hilton Hotel chain.

Norway’s Ullersmo Prison, which opened in 1970, is located in Kløfta. It houses long-term prisoners from all over Norway.

Leg A, Checkpoint #3
Leaving Kløfta, I headed straight north for the municipality of Ullensaker.
My first stop was the beautiful Ullensaker Church, which is set on a hilltop and provides a lovely view of the countryside. It was built in 1768 but it had to be rebuilt in 1952 after it was damaged by a fire.

Inside the church I saw some colorful frescos by Norwegian artist Alf Rolfsen (1895-1979). Rolfsen is best known for his fresco paintings in the Central Hall of the Oslo City Hall, where the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place. On one wall the artist painted scenes from the German occupation of Norway from 1940 to 1945, and on another wall he portrayed St. Hallvard, Oslo’s patron saint.

I continued on to Jessheim, a city in the Ullensaker municipality, where I visited the folk high school.

Norway has 77 folk high schools (folkehøgskoler). They are quite unique and outside of the regular educational system. Students attend for one year (usually between 18 and 25). They have no tests or homework. They do not earn a diploma but they choose one course of study that interests them. The purpose is to give students the opportunity “to learn for life.” The school in Jessheim focuses on music and theater.

Hovin Church
The Hovin Church was built in 1695 on the ruins of a stave church. Its altarpiece and pulpit are from the previous stave church.

At this stop I learned how the shape of church interiors changed in the 1600s. After Lutheranism became the state religion, the focus of church services turned to preaching. The pulpit, therefore, came to be more important and was moved closer to the people.

Here I saw the oldest burial mound in Norway. It is 77 meters in diameter and over 15 meters high. Who was buried in this large mound? The most popular story is that King Ragnar was buried here with two white horses. Archeological digs have found animal bones and fragments of a human skull but nothing else. The truth may never be known.

Oslo Airport, Gardemoen
Gardemoen, Norway’s largest airport, is located in Ullensaker. It is partly modeled after Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the U.S. and has two parallel runways and a single terminal. There is rail and bus service from the airport to Oslo.

The first Starbucks store in Norway was opened here in 2012. There are now three stores in Oslo and one in Bergen. Feeling a bit homesick, I made a stop at the airport and enjoyed a delicious chai tea latte. My Norwegian friend Elin told me that in winter she always orders a chai tea latte, “extra strong and extra hot.” In the summer, however, she orders a Frappuccino with chocolate milk, crushed ice, and whipped cream on the top.

Visiting Trandum Forest was a very moving experience. It was here during WWII that the Germans killed 173 Norwegians, 15 Russians, and six British and buried them in mass graves that were discovered in 1945. A memorial was built on this site, and Crown Prince Olav dedicated it in 1954.

Risebru Pilgrim Hostel (overnight location)
I spent the night at Risebru Pilgrim Hostel, located just outside the village of Dal. It is a charming log farm house that was built in the 1600s. This unattended hostel has two rooms that sleep seven people each.

Råholt Kirke
My first stop heading north from Dal was the lovely Råholt Church, which was built in 1888 in the neo-Gothic style. There was a revival of Gothic architecture in Europe in the 1800s. This movement began in England and spread throughout Europe. It even reached the United States. Examples in the U.S. are St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about this architectural revival, you may access a BBC art documentary on YouTube at

In Norway, bigger churches were needed at this time. More than 600 new churches were built and 400 smaller ones demolished.

Eidsvoll Manor
Eidsvoll Manor is very famous, of course, because it was here that the Norwegian Constitution was signed on May 17, 1814. I toured the manor and the museum. I also received a free cup of coffee at the manor’s Café Standpoint.

Eidsvoll Kirke
The beautiful Eidsvoll Church was built of brick and stone in about 1200.
In the 11th century most Norwegian churches were built of wood. To learn more about Norway’s beautiful stave churches, go to:

You can find replicas of stave churches in the United States. In Moorhead, Minnesota, for example, there is a replica of the stave church in Vik, Norway. For more information, go to:

A Long Way to Go!
In my next progress report, I will share my adventures along Leg B of the Sons Of Norway Virtual Pilgrimage.

So far I have traveled 48.5 miles (78 km). Only 338.5 miles (545 km) to go before reaching Trondheim, my final destination. Do you think I will make it? Stay tuned!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.