PILGRIMAGE, DIOCESE AND MONASTERY
The legend of Saint Sunniva forms the basis for the establishment of the Norwegian church, as well as for the establishment of Selja as a holy place. Already in A.D. 996, Selja became the first saint`s location in Norway, and associated with Saint Sunniva.
Selja was a natural stopping place for pilgrims during the Middle Ages. The shrine of Saint Sunniva was moved to Bergen in 1170, but Selja remained an important site of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Around 1068, Selja became one of the first three dioceses in the country, along with Oslo and Nidaros (Trondheim). The Selja diocese covered all of Western Norway. After some time, the bishop moved to Bergen, but the bishopric seat formally remained at Selja until 1170. Around 1090-1100, Selja got one of the first abbeys in the country, consecrated to Saint Albanus.
The founders of the abbey were probably Benedictine monks from the British isles. It must have been a magnificent sight, with colonnades, arches and beautiful ornament carved in the stone. They cultivated herbs and brew beer, ran farm operations and trade, treated the sick, read and prayed. We have scant information about the impact of the Black Death at the Selja Abbey in 1350. We can assume that many of the farms belonging to the abbey were abandoned, and the land rent to the abbey was substantially reduced.
The abbey closed down during the reformation 1536-37. The monastery tower still remains in its full height og 14 meters in the complex of ruins, which include as well the large terraces in the hillside in front of Sunnivahola.
Today you can climb up the narrow staircase in the church tower, listen to the church bell with the beautiful sound and enter the saint Sunnivahola, which, according to Sigrid Undset is “Norway`s oldest church”. Klosterkyrkja and Sunnivahola have never been deconsecrated, and is therefore avaliable for weddings, christenings and confirmations. From the small Sunnivakjelda you can drink water that is supposed to be healthful.
«text by; Torkjell Djupedal: Selja (English edition). Selja Forlag 2012.»