Consecration of the King is a thousand-year-old tradition in Norway. The ceremony is a solemn, ecclesiastical blessing of the King in the performance of his royal duties. In more recent times the Queen has been consecrated as well.
Beginning in 1163, new monarchs were consecrated to their office during the coronation ceremony. King Haakon VII and Queen Maud were the last Norwegian monarchs to be crowned. In 1958, when their son King Olav V inherited the throne, the coronation ceremony was replaced with a consecration ceremony.
Coronation in the Constitution
Article 12 of the Norwegian Constitution of 1814 established that the King was to be crowned and anointed in Nidaros Cathedral:
The Coronation and Anointing of the King should take place in the Cathedral in Trondheim, upon his reaching the Age of Majority, at the Time and with such Ceremonies as he may ordain."
In 1908 the Article on coronation was stricken from the Constitution as the coronation ceremony came to be regarded as undemocratic and archaic. The Storting voted by a large majority to repeal the Article.
A new consecration tradition
Thus, when King Haakon VII died in 1957, there was no basis in law for a coronation in Nidaros Cathedral. This did not, however, mean that there was any prohibition against holding such a ceremony in Nidaros Cathedral, if the new King so desired.
King Olav V possessed profound historical insight and was imbued with a strong sense of tradition. Therefore, he expressed a personal desire to be consecrated in Nidaros Cathedral to receive God's blessing upon his royal office. In his decision to be consecrated, King Olav V laid the foundation for the continuation of a tradition with roots going back to the hailing by the Øreting assembly and the coronations of the Norwegian kings from 1163 to 1906.
On 23 June 1991, King Harald V and Queen Sonja continued the consecration tradition in a ceremony also held in Nidaros Cathedral.
The historical foundation of the modern consecration ceremony in Nidaros Cathedral is twofold. One element is the tradition of the hailing of the Norwegian high kings at the Øreting assembly in Trondheim, which may have been practised as early as the 900s. The other element is the coronations of the Norwegian kings in Bergen, which began in 1163.
Hailing of the King
The hailing of a new king - konungstekja, meaning king-taking in Old Norse - is an ancient Germanic custom. Snorre mentions in his sagas that Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway, was hailed at the Øreting assembly. The veracity of this account is uncertain, however, and it may be that Haakon the Good was the first be to hailed King of the realm at the assembly in 935.
During the Middle Ages, the Norwegian kingship was a hereditary electoral monarchy – in other words, a combination of inheritance and election. All the Kings sons had an equal right to inherit the throne and could bring their claim before the assembly. The assembly would then select or reject the petitioner. Acceptance by the assembly, which represented the peoples voice, gave legitimacy to the King.
The King then swore an oath to adhere to the laws of the realm, and the noblemen of the assembly swore allegiance to the King. The yeomanry and Kings men beat their shields in acclamation of the new King.
After the hailing, many of the Norwegian kings of old journeyed around to the individual regional assemblies throughout the country to confirm their sovereignty there. Thus, the tradition of a coronation and hailing journey may be accorded a place in a thousand-year-long tradition.
During the Middle Ages, several important regional assemblies were located throughout the land. A pretender could therefore be hailed King in a number of different places. However, the Øreting assembly in Nidaros – now Trondheim – emerged as the national assembly for the hailing of the King.
This was partly due to the strong position of the region of Trøndelag in the kingdom, but perhaps more importantly to the cult surrounding Olav the Holy, who was buried in Nidaros Cathedral. The Shrine of St Olav was carried to the assembly and the new King swore an oath with his hand on the shrine, thus incorporating St Olav into the hailing ceremony.
The Law of Royal Succession of 1260 established that the hailing of the King was to take place at the Øreting assembly, thereby confirming a decision from 1163 which did not have a basis in law. In consequence the Øreting assembly was granted formal status as the assembly for the hailing of the King for the entire realm. Later the actual location for the hailing was moved to Nidaros Cathedral.
It is this historic tradition that the National Assembly at Eidsvoll sought to invoke in the Constitution of 1814 by stipulating that the King was to be crowned in Nidaros Cathedral. It was therefore natural that the new consecration ceremony be held the cathedral as well.
Coronation and anointing
The hailing formed the basis of the Kings temporal power. Beginning in 1163, coronation and anointing were also incorporated into the tradition. Coronation was an ecclesiastical ceremony based on the view of the kingship as a divine office. The ceremony symbolised the appointment of the monarch as Gods highest temporal representative on earth.
The tradition of coronation dates back to ancient times. In Europe the practice was begun by emperors of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. Coronation became an ecclesiastical ceremony when Christianity was adopted as the state religion. Anointing became part of the coronation ceremony throughout Catholic Europe in the 600s. The practice was modelled after the Old Testament story in which Samuel anointed Saul as king of all of Israel.
The ceremony opened with a religious service, followed by the anointing of the monarch with consecrated oil. Then the coronation was performed, in which the King was bestowed with the royal regalia as symbols of his temporal power. Finally, the bishop gave his blessing on the Kings royal office.
The first coronation in Norway
The first coronation of a Norwegian king took place in 1163 when Magnus Erlingsson was crowned in Bergen by Archbishop Eystein following a protracted conflict over the throne. Magnus was a mere child, only five to seven years old at the time, and his right to the throne was passed to him through his mother, Kristin, daughter of Sigurd the Crusader. The succession of Magnus to the throne clashed seriously with the established legal precept of the throne being passed from father to son. Magnus claim was so tenuous that it had to be reinforced through an alliance with church.
The church was able to strengthen its position as well, as it offered a basis for the legitimacy of the kingship. The coronation oath, in which King Magnus pledged his allegiance to the Pope, provided important guarantees for the church.
Coronations in the Middle Ages
Only a few of the coronations in Norway during the Middle Ages took place in Nidaros Cathedral. The first five coronations were held in Bergen, and the sixth took place in Oslo when Haakon Magnusson was crowned in 1299. When he died without a male heir in 1319, Norway was drawn into a union with Sweden and Denmark on the basis of royal marital ties.
In 1397, Norway, Sweden and Denmark became united under a single king in what is referred to as the Kalmar Union. During this period and until the union was dissolved in 1523, the kings were crowned consecutively in each of the three countries. In the 1400s three of these coronations took place in Trondheim, but the others were held in Oslo.
The autocracy was introduced in 1660, and no other coronations were held in Norway while the union with Denmark remained in force. During this period a joint ceremony was performed in Copenhagen. The autocracy afforded the King absolute power as the greatest and highest ruler on earth. In keeping with this, the ceremony was amended to a strict anointing ritual in which the King placed the crown on his own head.
The next coronation to take place in Norway and Trondheim was that of King Carl Johan in 1818. At that time Norway had once again become an independent nation, and the King was crowned as the constitutional monarch in accordance with the Article relating to coronation in the Norwegian Constitution. The ceremonial practices used in the coronation of Carl Johan formed the basis for later coronations up until the last coronation ever to be held in Norway, that of King Haakon and Queen Maud in 1906.