Oslo is one of very few cities in Norway, besides Bergen and Tønsberg, that does not have a formal coat-of-arms, but which uses a city seal instead.The seal of Oslo shows the city’s patron saint, St. Hallvard, with his attributes, the millstone and the arrows used to kill him, with the naked woman he defended at his feet.
He is seated on a throne with lion decorations, which at the time was also commonly used by the Norwegian Kings. The Oslo city motto is in Latin: ‘Unanimiter et constanter’, meaning ‘United and constant’.
Hallvard Vebjørnsson (Hallvard the Wholy) lived ca 1020–1043 A.D., and is commonly referred to as Saint Hallvard. He is considered a martyr because of his defense of an innocent woman:
Hallvard defended a pregnant woman, most likely a slave, who had been given sanctuary on his ship from three men accusing her of theft. Hallvard, together with the woman, were killed by arrows from the men. The woman was buried on the beach. Hallvard, however, was bound with a millstone around his neck, and the men attempted to drown his body in the Drammensjord, but it refused to sink and as a result their crimes were discovered.
Painting of Saint Hallvard in Oslo City Hall (click on the picture to enlarge and discover all the beautiful details)
Saint Hallvard was celebrated as a local saint in Norway – and especially in the eastern region – throughout the Middle Ages from about mid-11th century, with a peak in the early 13th century. His religious feast day was 15th May. Hallvard has been revered as a martyr for his defense of an innocent person since medieval times.
Hallvard’s Cathedral (Hallvardskatedralen), a cathedral dedicated to his name was finished in Oslo in 1130, where his relics were stored. The Cathedral was built on the hill by the Old Town market square in Oslo (intersection of Bispegata – Oslo gate) during the early 12th century, and was in use as a church until about 1655. Besides being the bishop’s seat and religious center in more than 500 years, the cathedral was the coronation church, the royal wedding church and the royal burial chapel. It fell into disrepair in the 17th century and is today a ruin.
The connection of Saint Hallvard to the city of Oslo was fortified by the fact that his image was recorded in the city’s seal already in the 14th century. The municipality’s highest honor, the St. Hallvard Medal (St. Hallvard-medaljen), was named after him in 1950.
Note: The Oslo women’s Bunad purse (traditional costume purse) shows Oslo’s guardian angel, Saint Halvard, Oslo City Hall and Akershus Fortress.
Text modified by Thor Bugge Lanesskog
Photos by: Oslo Kommune (Municipality of Oslo)
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