The photo above shows the altar of St. Olaf in Rome. He is shown with his battle axe, triumphantly crushing under foot the dragon of paganism (or maybe, in the artist’s mind, Lutheran heresy?). My blog pseudonym is the Latin form of “Olaf from Wisconsin.” My family is from Wisconsin (though I wasn’t born or raised here), and I’m one-eighth Norwegian. When I was a child, my late father (who was insanely proud of his one-quarter Norwegianity—may he rest in peace) used to call me “Ole,” which is short for Olaf.
St. Olaf was the King of Norway who spearheaded the conversion of that country to the Roman Catholic Faith. For his efforts at converting the pagan Vikings, St. Olaf was martyred during the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29, 1030, which is why today is his feast day. St. Olaf is honored as the “eternal king” (Rex Perpetuus) of Norway. Unfortunately, Norway was annexed by Denmark during the Protestant Revolt, and the Danes imposed Lutheranism on the country.
When I was studying under Fr. Reginald Foster in Rome ten years ago, I visited many of the so-called National Churches in the city. These are the churches that each nation claims as “its church” in Rome. I figured that Norway, despite its official Lutheranism, must have at least a chapel somewhere. Catholics—good ones, anyway—are always trying to reclaim the lost sheep among the nations. One day by accident, I stumbled upon the Norwegian national chapel in the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso* (which is the National Church of the Lombards). That’s where I took the photo above. The Latin inscriptions on the edge of the painting read in part, “Norvegia Catholica; S. Olaus Martyr, Norvegiae Rex et Patronus.” Translated, that’s, “Catholic Norway; St. Olaf, Martyr, King and Patron of Norway.”
Given the number of Norwegian-Americans in Dane County**, Wisconsin, where I now live, it’s not surprising that a local Catholic church is named for St. Olaf (it’s in the town of DeForest)***. I had hoped to take some photos there today, but I will probably need to do so some other day instead. When I do, I’ll try to post on the ecumenical nature of the cult of St. Olaf (he is one of the last Latin Rite saints honored by the Byzantines), as well as recent Catholic evangelism in Norway.
Saint Olaf, pray for the conversion of Norway and Norwegian-Americans to the True Faith!
*http://romanchurches.wikia.com/wiki/San_Carlo_al_Corso. The full name of the Basilica is Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso. Saints Ambrose and Charles Borromeo were both Archbishops of Milan, which is the highest-ranking see in Lombardy. It makes sense that the basilica is located on the Corso, which is the road leading north from Rome’s city center in the direction of Lombardy. No wonder it’s the National Church of the Lombards. Given that the Lombards are, from the Roman perspective, a northern Germanic people, it’s also a fitting place for the Norwegian national chapel. To read about the history of the Chapel of St. Olaf, click the link and scroll down to the section entitled “Chapel of St Olav.”
**Which is not named for Norway’s tyrannical Danish Lutheran oppressors. No, per Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dane_County,_Wisconsin#History), the county “was named after Nathan Dane, a Massachusetts delegate to the Congress of the Confederation who helped carve Wisconsin out of the Northwest Territory. Dane County was first settled in the 1840s by settlers from New England.”
***Here’s a link to the parish website (http://stolafdeforest.org/). Looks like they have a nice statue of St. Olaf in front of his church. Just as St. Olaf’s church in DeForest honors the Norwegian settlers in that area, few of whom were likely to be Catholics, St. Andrew’s in the town where I now live honors the original Scottish settlers in this area (https://driftlesscatholic.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/patronal-feast-day-of-st-andrew-the-apostle/).