28 May 2010

'Come Ye, Christian People of Norway!'—St Hallvard of Husaby

Today, 15 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Passion-bearer Hallvard Vebjørnsson of Husaby (1020-1043), Defender of Oslo. [1] St Hallvard is the patron Saint of Oslo (and indeed, is depicted on the seal of the city, as one can see below), as well as of my sponsor when I was first received into the Orthodox Church fourteen years ago. As with many martyred Saints, very little is known about St Hallvard apart from the story of his death. Here is the entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints:

Hallvard (d. 1043), martyr and patron of Oslo. The son of a noble landholder of Husaby (Norway), he spent his youth in Viking activities.

One day, crossing the Drammenfiord by boat, he was accosted by a woman who appealed to him to take her with him, as she was falsely accused of stealing and was in danger of death. Her pursuers then arrived and called on him peremptorily to give her up. He refused as he believed her to be innocent; whereupon they were both shot dead with a bow. Hallvard’s body was thrown in the sea with a stone attached, but it floated: he was revered as a martyr for defending an innocent person. His body was enshrined in a stone church in Oslo, whose patron he became and still remains. [2]

I will add only that according to the Wikipedia article (here), St Hallvard was the son of one Vebjørn of Husaby and his wife Torny, a relative of St Olaf of Norway.

Although I still have not read the acclaimed novel Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, I noticed that volume 2 of my edition is entitled The Mistress of Husaby. Three hundred years after the time of St Hallvard, Kristin’s husband is a knight of Husaby, and the volume opens with their return there. We read:

They had come up into Skaun, and were riding high on a hillside. Below them in the valley bottom the woods stood white and shaggy with rime; everywhere the sunlight glittered, and a small lake in the midst flashed blue. Then all at once the troop passed out from a little pinewood, and Erlend pointed ahead:

‘There lies Husaby, Kristin. God grant you many happy days there, my own wife!’ he said, with a thrill in his voice.

Before them stretched broad plough-lands, white with rime. The manor stood, as it were, on a broad shelf midway on the hillside—nearest them lay a small church of light-coloured stone, and just south of it were the clustered houses; they were many and great; the smoke whirled up from their smoke-vents. Bells began ringing from the church, and many folk came streaming from the courtyard to meet them, with shouts of greeting. The young men in the bridal trains clashed their weapons one on another—and with a great clattering and the thunder of hoofs and joyous uproar the troop swept forward towards the new-married man’s abode. [3]

Reader Isaac Lambertson has written a beautiful Akolouthia for St Hallvard, available online here at the Orthodox England site. In conclusion, I offer the Idiomelon in Tone 2 and the Kontakion in Tone 8 of the Passion-bearer:

Idiomelon in Tone 2

Come, all ye Orthodox peoples! Come ye, Christian people of Norway! Come, ye citizens of Oslo! Let us extol Hallvard the wondrous youth. who, nurtured from infancy on the precepts of Christ, and reared in piety and reverence, bravely sheltered the defenseless woman, whose life and that of her unborn babe were sought by savage malefactors; for he was mindful of the words of Jesus, that no-one hath greater love, than that he lay down his life for his fellow man. Wherefore, let us imitate Hallvard as he imitated his Lord, that we also may be vouchsafed a place in paradise with Him.

Kontakion in Tone 8

Like a merchant man seeking fine pearls, the young Hallvard plied the seas of life; and having freighted the ship of his soul with compassion and all the Christian virtues, he found a most precious treasure on the waters of Dremmenfjord, and sold all he had, purchasing it with the very blood of his life, for he bravely shielded the defenceless woman for the sake of Christ his God. Wherefore, marvelling at his innocence and valour, let us cry aloud: Wondrous is God Who is glorious in His saints!

[1] Today, of course, is also the feastday of the more well-known St Pachomius the Great, and I put a great deal of work into a post for him (here) last year.

[2] David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford U, 2004), p. 242.

[3] Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavrandatter, Vol. II: The Mistress of Husaby, tr. Charles Archer (NY: Knopf, 1946), p. 277.

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