Eysteinkyrkja – the church on the mountaintop

The churches along the St. Olav Ways are varied. Some are huge and impressive; others are small and hidden deep in the forest. Each church has its own history. This is the story of Eysteinkyrkja.

In Hjerkinn at Dovrefjell, almost 1000 meter above sea level, you’ll find the majestic church Eysteinskyrkja. Although the church itself is quite new, the place has always been an attractive destination for pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

Why is there a church at exact 965 meters above sea level on the roof of Norway, in Dovrefjell? The church Eysteinkyrkja isn’t old. In fact, the building was completed in 1969. It was designed by Magnus Paulsson, who was inspired by the summit Snøhetta. The church is used for services and other liturgies. At the same time, it has always been a pilgrim church. In fact the first pilgrims in modern times that walked over Dovrefjell, started their pilgrimage at Eysteinkyrkja in the same year the church was built.

But Eysteinkyrkja is not the first church in Hjerkinn. We don’t know when the first church was built and we don’t know when it disappeared, but we know that it existed. Aslak Bolts "jordebok", a list of property and land distribution from 1432, confirms this assumption. In the Middle Ages there was once a church in Hjerkinn, a church that was there to accommodate the pilgrims on their journey over the mountains towards Nidaros.

Pilgrims on Dovrefjell Photo: Hans-Jacob Dahl

The two pilgrims at Eysteinkyrkja

They walk in a slow pace, the two pilgrims on their way up the last hill to Eysteinkyrkja. Two people who have been on a long walk, two backpacks and two walking sticks. Four feet on the way to their destination far away in Trondheim. But now they are in Dovrefjell, they’ve climbed the hill and walk towards the Eysteinkyrkja.

They leave their backpacks and sticks in the vestibule and peek into the nave. The two pilgrims come into the nave, sit down and silence falls over the room. It is interesting to learn more about the history of pilgrimage. Why do we go on a pilgrimage on the St. Olav Ways  to Trondheim? It can be hard to explain, but it's more than just to learn about pilgrims in the Middle Ages. It has to do with your own life. What lies behind you and what is yet to come. Walking for days and days makes you start to think and reflect. At the same time you get many outer impulses on the way to the goal.

After a while, the two pilgrims gather and go to the altar. Each of them lights a small candle. Then they pick up their backpacks and hiking sticks to move on.  First, uphill to Hjerkinnhø and then down to Kongsvold Fjeldstue. There they will eat and sleep before they continue their walk over the mountains towards the Nidaros Cathedral, where the shrine of Saint Olav once stood.

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