The sea-voyage of Saint Olav in medieval image and text: a visual narrative sermon in the church space.
The miraculous sea-voyage of St Olav is a central narrative motif and theme both in the medieval art and the liturgical texts, sagas and chronicles of the cult, for the annual Saint Olav Feast July 28 – August 5. The first pictorial representation of this motif is the Beatus Initial of The Carrow Psalter from East Anglia 1250. During the period of 1250- 1540 the sea-voyage pictorial motif is represented in Scandinavian parish churches, in panel paintings and wall paintings, in Denmark-Scania and the eastern part of Sweden and Finland. Pictorial representations of the sea-voyages of Saint Olav have been compared in iconographic analyses with the liturgical voyage-theme, presented in the different texts of the St Olav´s Office from the period 1050- 1540. Two dimensions of meaning in images and texts are examined, sensus literalis and sensus spiritualis.
The earliest example of the theme of St Olav sea-voyage appear first in a liturgical Office text for Saint Olav in England, shortly after the translation of the royal martyr. Most of the main narrative markers of this sea-voyage motif are presented in the Leofric-collectar 1050. This first liturgical sea-voyage theme, Iustum deduxit, was compiled from passages in Biblical texts of Wisdom of Solomon (Apocr. Chapt 10) and Jesus Ben Syrach. It was then established for the regular St Olav liturgy of the arch diocese at Nidaros Cathedral. The liturgical St Olav theme, Iustum deduxit, was then spread in parish churches around Scandinavia and Northern Europe. And this theme Iustum deduxit, was used in those dioceses where the pictorial church programs with the voyage-motif were commissioned. Later this St Olav theme was elaborated in Mass sermons, hymns or legends, for example Vadstena, Ribe, Leuven and Lübeck. A more detailed comparison in my dissertation Olav den helige i medeltida bildkonst. Legendmotiv och attribut 1999 shows that each work of art has a direct counterpart in elements of the liturgical texts.
The results show that the images of the St Olav sea-voyage have a closer connection to the liturgical texts of the St Olav´s Office, both sensus literalis and sensus spiritualis, than with the sensus literalis in the epic historical sagas. The church visitor did not address their prayer for help to a historical person from a history book. "Ora pro nobis Sanctus Olavus": they were praying to a heavenly Saint that could come to rescue in their own time. In this liturgical sea- voyage motif the Martyr king is presented as a wise king; guiding and helping "the righteous brother", who needs his help on the dangerous sea voyage, i.e. "the voyage of life". With the help of God, a safe passage opens for the boat and the evil sea ogres and trolls are defeated. The ship will reach a safe harbour.
Trondheim: Museumsforlaget AS, 2016, 1. 55-76 p.