The legend of Sunniva
Princess Sunniva and many of her clan escaped from a fierce Viking chieftain in Ireland. Neither sails nor oars or rudders were to be used; they left their fate entirely in God’s hands. Sunniva and most of her followers landed at the island Selja. Here, fearing the heathens, they stayed in caves. They served Christ in austerity, poverty and a pious life. After some time, Sunniva and her followers, who get the name Seljumennene, were suspected of stealing sheep on the island. The godless earl Håkon came to the island and intended to do away with the holy flock. When seeing the enemy approaching, they sought refuge in the cave. The mountain bursted and buried them, so they died as martyrs. Later on, a strange light was seen from Selja, and human bones with a sense of wondrous fragrance were found. When the Christians then started to collect the bones of the holy ones, they discovered the body of the holy Sunniva, inviolate and unharmed. This happened in the Year of the Lord, 996. Thereafter, a church was built on the island where God had performed great miracles. The pilgrims came here throughout the Middle Ages. Even today, it is a unique experience to stand underneath what Sigrid Undset called “the oldest church ceiling in Norway, and the only spot where we have reason to believe that Saint Olav has worshipped“. The minister Arne Bakken calls Sunnivahola the “uterus which gave life to the Norwegian Church”. Saint Sunniva has inspired and drawn man to Selja for over a thousand years. Today, Saint Sunniva is the patron saint of Bergen and Western Norway, and watches especially over the seamen. Saint Sunniva and Seljumennene are honored every year by Seljumannamesse on July 8 th . It is the oldest anniversary by law in Norway.