(Thanks to “thewhiterabbit” for suggesting biographical sketches)
Who doesn’t know the song, “London Bridge is falling down”? Ah–but why did it fall? Did someone pull it down?
In 1014 Olaf Haraldsson, a viking from Norway, joined a wider coalition of vikings–we would call them armed robbers, but to the Norse peoples in the 11th century, it was a perfectly respectable way to earn a living–and invaded England, attacking London. During the battle for the city, Olaf tied his ships to some of the bridge’s support beams and had his men row like mad. The beams were pulled loose and the bridge fell down. The defenders couldn’t get from one part of the city to the other to reinforce each other.
This Olaf Haraldsson is known to us today as St. Olaf, patrol saint of Norway and one-time king of Norway.
Olaf’s claim to the throne was no better and no worse than many chieftains’. He got to the top and made it stick for a little while–until King Canute the Great of Denmark engineered a revolt. In 1030 Olaf died in the Battle of Stiklestad. In 1031 he was canonized locally, and in 1164 the Church recognized his sainthood as having universal application.
Yes, yes, there is and always has been endless controversy as to Olaf’s character, his Christianity, his government, and everything else about him. But the fact, the indisputable fact, is that very shortly after his death, people all over the Northlands revered him as a saint and attributed miracles to him. A blind king of the Bulgars swore he “saw” Olaf, by then many years dead, rallying the Byzantine army against him. No one else could see him, but no one accused the Bulgar king of making up a story. Why, after all, should he have done that?
It is recorded in the sagas that Olaf insisted that the men who fought for him should all be Christians. After Stiklestad Canute was not able to hold Norway for long. For a thousand years St. Olaf’s holiness has been a spiritual anchor for Norway.
Not quite what you’d expect from a man who pulled down London Bridge.