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Take a pilgrimage along Norway’s St. Olav’s Way

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Recently reopened Norwegian pilgrimage offers a 400-mile spiritual journey through a downright gorgeous land.

Norway may not be known as a particularly Catholic country, but the Catholic tradition of pilgrimage is coming back in a big way with the revival of St. Olav’s Way, also known as The Pilgrim’s Route.

For hundreds of years, pilgrimages were seen as a criminal act and a prosecutable offence in Norway. It was not until recently that these extensive travel routes were reopened to the public. Now, the faithful can once again walk in the footsteps of their ancestors, traveling the tranquil landscape while deep in prayer.

Named for the Patron Saint of Norway, St. Olav’s way contains eight different paths, which stretch through thousands of kilometers of Norway’s gorgeous countryside. The largest and most popular of these paths is the 400-mile-long Gudbrandsdalen, named for its route through the Gudbrand valley.

One of the many splendid aspects of St. Olav’s Way is that there are so many paths, which stretch on so long, that pilgrims will often find themselves in complete solitude. While several of the paths pass through towns, there may be portions of this trek — which depending on walking speed can take longer than a month — where one can go for days without coming across anyone. This allows pilgrims to better concentrate on their spiritual journey.

History aficionados will appreciate the many historic landmarks that can be visited along the way. Jacqueline Kehoe of Matador Network notes several interesting sites, including: The 1,000-year-old cathedral ruins in Hamar, Dovrefjell National Park, and Ringebu Stave Church.

Pilgrims are welcome to bring tents and camp just about anywhere they want, thanks to a Norwegian law that gives anyone the right to backpack around the country, so long as they are respectful of the environment and keep at least 500-feet away from residences. This can help pilgrims who cannot keep pace to make it to one of the over 150 registered places to stay. It should be noted that these lodgings are mostly non-professional establishments. Many of them are private homes that the owners open to the pilgrims.

There are also many pilgrim centers along the way, which give travelers a place to stop and resupply. Anyone familiar with the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage will appreciate that St. Olav’s Way offers a similar certificate that proves that a pilgrim completed the entire journey. In order to earn the certificate, participants must stop at each pilgrim center and add another stamp to their passport.

The pilgrimage comes to an end at Nidaros Cathedral, in the town of Trondheim. This cathedral was built over the grave of St. Olav and it is truly a sight to behold. The intricately carved facade alone could take a whole day of viewing to be properly appreciated.

For a look at what it would be like to take a pilgrimage along St. Olav’s Way, take a look at the video, featured above, which shows a group of Norwegian pilgrims enjoying the month-long excursion.

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