Sanctus Hallvardus

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by Åslaug Ommundsen

According to his legend St. Hallvard (ca. 1020-1043), patron saint of Oslo, was killed as a young man in an attempt to help a pregnant woman flee from three men chasing her, accusing her of being a thief. Hallvard was killed with bow and arrow and thrown in the sea with a stone tied to his neck. A millstone later became the symbol of his martyrdom. According to Icelandic annals this occurred in 1043, and the date of his martyrdom was 15 May.

He is mentioned in Adam Bremensis (ca. 1070; book 3, ch. 54) as Alfwardus, a holy man killed by friends for protecting an enemy. The legend claims that Hallvard on his mother’s side was a close relative of Sanctus Olavus. Hallvard’s body was some time after his death translated from Lier (by modern day Drammen) to Oslo. It has been suggested that this was done as early as the mid eleventh century by his relative Harald Hardråde Sigurdsson (1015-1066) (MUNCH 1851, 197-98). His shrine was placed in St. Hallvard’s church, a church first mentioned by Snorre in connection with the burial of Sigurd Jorsalfar in 1130 (Saga of the sons of Magnus, ch. 33). The church burned a few years later (1137), but the shrine of St. Hallvard was rescued (Snorre, Saga of King Inge, chs. 3-4). St. Hallvard was mainly worshipped in Norway, Iceland and Skara, the Swedish see closest to Oslo.

Two versions of his legend are completely transmitted. Two other versions, discovered among the fragment material in the National Archives in Oslo and Stockholm, were edited in the 1960s, cf. (1) Legenda. All the transmitted texts are in the form of lessons, and all of them are answering to a common ancestor. The remains of what may have been a proper office (historia) are visible on a fragment in Oslo, National Archives, see Officium (2). A sequence for St. Hallvard was discovered in an Icelandic manuscript fragment in the early twentieth century, see Missa (3).




De sancto Halwardo martyre in Norwegia (title from Acta sanctorum 1680)


The versions in Acta sanctorum and Breviarium Nidrosiense:

Sanctus Halvardus ex nobilioribus ortus natalibus.../... corpus eius longe post cum saxo super mare natans repertum est.


1. Acta sanctorum: Three lessons, ca. 3 pages.

2. Breviarium Nidrosiense: Three lessons, ca. 2 pages.

3. Stockholm, Riksarkivet, Fr. 7708 (see ODENIUS 1961): Fragments from a lectionary (ca. 3 pages), probably nine lessons originally.

4. Oslo, Riksarkivet, No. fragm. 98 (see GJERLØW 1968): Fragments from a breviary (only the martyrium, ca. one page, remains), probably nine lessons originally.

A comparison of the size of the different versions is hard to do with certainty, since to versions are only partially transmitted on fragments. What appears to have been the longest and most detailed version of the legend of Saint Hallvard is the Norwegian fragment (Oslo, RA, Nor. fragm. 98), since it supplies a more extensive version of the martyrium than the Swedish fragment (Stockholm, RA, Fr. 7708) and Acta sanctorum (AS) do. The Swedish fragment presents the inventio, the story of the discovery of Saint Hallvard’s body, an element not included in AS and Breviarium Nidrosiense (BN), and this version was therefore probably longer than the AS version, and possibly with nine lessons instead of three. The text in BN appears to be an abridged version of the one in AS, and is the shortest one of the surviving versions.


  • Breviarium Nidrosiense, Paris 1519, ff. oo.v recto-oo.viii. recto.
  • Acta sanctorum, ed. Henschen, Antverpiæ 1680 (reprinted 1969), Maii III, 401 (14 May)
  • TORFÆUS, HRN III, 234-5. (Reprint of AS)
  • LANGEBEK, SRD III, 606-7. (Reprint of AS)
  • STORM 1880, xxxxiv-v & 155-158. (The AS version, including a critical apparatus with the abridged version as presented in BN)
  • ODENIUS 1961-62 (Edition of the Swedish fragment, Stockholm, RA, Fr 7708)
  • GJERLØW 1968 (Edition of the Norwegian fragment, Oslo, RA, No. fragm. 98)


The text also existed in an Old Norse version, now lost with the exception of the first lines (AM perg. 238 fol.) and the last lines (AM cod. 235 fol) in two Icelandic sources, printed in Heilagra Manna Søgur 1877. It can not be determined which came first, the Icelandic or the Latin version. See sources below.

Date and place

The Hallvard legend may be contemporary with the legends of Sanctus Olavus and Sancta Sunniva and the saints of Selja from the late twelfth century. STORM suggests that the legend was composed by a Norwegian priest by the saint’s resting place in Oslo. He makes 1247 a terminus ante quem, because ordeal by fire (ferro ardente) is treated as an accepted legal tool in the older versions of the text, while this form of testimony was banned by the cardinal Vilhelm of Sabina in 1247 (STORM 1880). JOHNSEN (1949-51) argues that the terminus ante quem should in fact be put at 1170 because of a letter from Pope Alexander III to archbishop Øystein dated 1169 forbidding the use of iudicia per igniti ferri examinationem. The passage with the ordeal by fire is omitted in BN and in the Swedish fragment.

Summary of contents

The first lesson in the Acta sanctorum describes Hallvard’s noble origin and his family ties to Saint Olav, and the virtues displayed during childhood and adolescence. He became his father’s helper in the family business, and was renowned for his honesty. The second lesson tells of a visit to Gotland where Hallvard meets the wealthy Botvid (Bothmundus in the Swedish fragment), who predicts greatness for the young man. In addition to the highest courtesy and a feast, he buys all of Hallvard’s merchandise and sends him and his men home safely with plenty of gifts. In the third lesson Hallvard is about to sail out on the lake Dram, when a pregnant woman asks him to bring her along. She is chased by three men who accuse her of stealing from their brother’s house. Hallvard, convinced of her innocence, suggests that rather than being killed she should undergo an ordeal by fire. Instead, one of the men kills him by shooting an arrow through his chest. Then they kill the woman and bury her on the shore, while Hallvard is thrown into the lake with a stone tied to his neck. Through divine grace his body is later found afloat, with the stone still tied to it.

The Swedish fragment elaborates on the ending, and describes the parent’s search for the lost Hallvard, and the later classical inventio: Three men, two young and one old, pass by the place of the murder late at night and see a flaming torch in the dark sky, leading them to the body of Hallvard afloat in the sea. Parts of the text are here unclear, but it seems that a blind man gets his eyesight back and a well of healing water springs from the ground on the place where they pull him ashore. Then they notify Hallvard’s grief-stricken parents, who find consolation in their son’s obvious holiness. We may assume that the legend in its longest form, or in the form of nine lessons, has included the inventio. If we believe that the few preserved lines from a Hallvard’s saga in Old Norse correspond with the Latin legend, the legend also included the translatio from Lier to Oslo, “where he since then rests in the main church” (Heilagra Manna søgur, 395).

Composition and style

The legend as transmitted has been described as unusually poor and short by STORM who was familiar only with the versions in BN and AS (STORM 1880, p XXXXV). The two fragments from the Norwegian and Swedish National Archives revealing the existence of longer versions were discovered long after his time.

The four surviving texts all seem to relate to the same older version, probably one very close to the Oslo RA, Nor. fragm. 98 (the Oslo version), of which we have only Hallvard’s martyrium. Here we also learn the names of the three perpetrators; Segmundus and his brothers, Halvardus and Ketillus. The version printed in AS seems based on this, but shortened and altered in the direction of a more hypotactical structure. For instance, where the Oslo version has “Redde nobis illam ut moriatur. Digna est.” the AS version reads “Redde eam ut moriatur, quoniam digna.” There is also a tendency in the AS version to use present participles to increase the flow of the language: Where the Oslo version reads “... extraxit quandam modicam lintrem de alga”, the AS version goes for the participle: “...extrahensque modicam lintrem de alga, ascendit eam.

The version in the Swedish fragment seems also based on the Oslo version, and is slightly more faithful as far as the language is concerned. However, larger chunks of the dialogue are omitted (not only the reference to ordeal by fire). The shortest version, the one in BN, is obviously based on a version very similar to our AS version. Only the core of the contents is kept and the style of the language is that of the AS version with a few minor corrections. The version in BN seems to aim at presenting the essentials of the legend with a more balanced relationship between the three readings.

Stylistically the legend is not particularly elegant in any of the versions, although all redactions seem to have desired to improve the style of the older versions some. There is a certain use of clausulae, although strangely old-fashioned. These go back to the Oslo version, although not identical. The cursus planus is the most commonly used (like máius pensáret, ending the first lesson). The cursus tardus (revérsus ad pátriam) ends the second lesson, and is used more or less as often as the cursus velox. It seems, however, that a particular rhytmical pattern, not belonging to the group of the three common cursus, is favoured by the author, the so called “neighbour”, cursus trispondaicus (JANSON 1975, 51); gratánter acceptávit, plúra redonávit, tuéndam suscepísti. The use of this cursus was very popular in the German area in the ninth-eleventh century, but was dying out in the time of Adam of Bremen, before 1100 (JANSON 1975, 55), and could therefore be considered as a very old-fashioned trait. Several sentences also end with a spondaic pair (causam furti). The cursus velox is used to emphasise the dramatic scenes of the chase. First the girl explains that she saw Hallvard getting ready to set out to sea (itínere properántem) and ran to catch up with him (celériter cucurrísse). Thus far the AS version follows the Oslo version, but now decides to increase the drama further by adding an additional three cursus veloces for the pursuit, creating a cluster of a cursus planus, a cursus tardus, and then three cursus veloces in succession:

Et subito vídit ad líttus, quo múlier vénerat, tres viros velóciter accurréntes, qui statim aliam cýmbam arripiéntes post eos velócius navigábant. (And suddenly he saw on the shore where the woman had come from, three men running fast in their direction. The men instantly grabbed another boat and sailed quickly after them.)

The AS version appears to be a rather thorough redaction, bringing the text “up to date” by adding more of the cursus velox, which became increasingly more popular in the course of the twelfth century. Lilli Gjerløw suggests that the AS version represents the Nidaros version, i.e. an adaptation of the original nine lessons of the Oslo see into the three lessons later prescribed in the Nidaros ordinal for the rest of the archbishopric (Gjerløw 1968, 422). If this is so, the redaction was possibly made already in the late twelfth century, when the arch see was actively working towards a uniform Nidaros rite. An early redaction is also supported by the fact that the ordeal by fire is not removed from the story. The Oslo version and the AS version both include this, but with different wordings. The Oslo version: “Potes te purgare ex hoc vel aqua fervente vel ferro candente?” AS: “Potes te ex hoc purgare ferro ardente?” The Swedish version and the Breviary are “up to date” and have excluded this part of Hallvard’s defence of the woman.

There is some unusual Latin, like ideo corresponding with ideo (ideo cum tardior periret, ideo celeriter accurrisse), perire for “arrive” (same sentence), imprægnantem for “a pregnant woman” (instead of the active sense of the word). There is also a strange use of a double preposition: Tunc illi e contra hoc... This sentence is rewritten in BN.


The Legend mentions no specific sources, and the claim to authority is based on “ut fertur”. However, there is a noteworthy sentence in the first lesson of the AS version: Fertur etiam, quod apud cunctos habetur, quod.... (It is also said, and this they all have...) This could suggest that there were several collections of stories about Hallvard available to our author.

In two Icelandic manuscripts from the fourteenth century, the first and last lines of a St Hallvard’s saga are preserved (AM perg. 238 fol. and AM cod. 235 fol, printed in Heilagra manna søgur p. 396). There is also evidence of the existence of an Old Norse version of the text in Möðruvallaklaustr (DI 5, 289). The few preserved lines of the Old Norse version indicate that it was more detailed than the Acta sanctorum version of the legend, and also the Swedish version. Whether or not it was more detailed than the Oslo version is not known, since the beginning and ending of this is lost. Even though STORM was unaware of the existence of the more extensive versions of the Hallvard legend, he pointed out that we had to keep in mind the possibility of a lost, more detailed Latin legend, and that we should not presume that the Icelandic saga was the source of the Latin legend (STORM 1880, XXXXV).

Purpose and audience

All versions of the legend have been transmitted as nocturnal readings at matins. Although proper lessons were not required for St. Hallvard’s feast (Lectiones communes legantur cum proprie non habeantur, Gjerløw 1968, 342), they would have been seen as an advantage, particularly for places or churches with a strong connection to the saint, like the areas close to Oslo.

Medieval reception and transmission

The legend of Saint Hallvard was probably widely spread, even though the Nidaros ordinal indicates that it may not have been available for all churches (see Purpose and audience).

The four different versions of Saint Hallvard’s legend are transmitted through only four medieval sources, one of which is now lost: • The printed version in Acta sanctorum was based on a manuscript found in Utrecht, belonging to the St. Salvator’s church (Legendarium MS. Ultrajecinum ecclesiæ s. Salvatoris). The legendary was dated to ca 1300, but is now lost. • Oslo, Riksarkivet, no. fragm. 98 (marked “Thelemarken 1594. Akershus Bygning”). The two fragments together form the lower half of a leaf from a breviary. The hand is dated to the first half of the 14th century. The verso page contains part of a lesson, the other page what appears to be remnants of chants for a proper office, see below. • Stockholm, Riksarkivet, Fr. 7708. St. Hallvard’s lessons are transmitted on two leaves (from a total of fourteen preserved leaves) from a lectionary dated ca 1500. • Breviarium Nidrosiense 1519.


No sources mention the existence of a proper office for Saint Hallvard. However, a fragment in Oslo, Riksarkivet (Nor. fragm. 98), may contain part of a now lost Saint Hallvard’s office. The recto page has text with musical notation, but only small pieces of text and music can be discerned from the worn page and not enough for reconstruction or identification, at least not without technical assistance. On top of the verso-page, before the following lesson, are the words “laudis in preconio. Alleluia. P M” (Gjerløw 1968, 421).


In the Nidaros ordinal Saint Hallvard’s mass liturgy is shared with other martyrs:

Off. Protexisti me deus. Ep. Omne gaudium existimate. Alleluia. V. Corona aurea. Seq. Mundi etate. Ev. Qui amat patrem aut matrem. Offert. Confitebuntur. Com. Letabitur iustus. The prayers are Coll. Sancte martyr tuus. Secr. Tanto placabiles and Postcom. Beati Halvardi (Missale Nidrosiense p. 419).

The prescribed sequence in the Nidaros ordinal is the Mundi etate and not a proper sequence, indicating that the proper sequence for St. Hallvard was not yet written at that time. The incipit of the proper sequence Lux illuxit lux est nobis is added on erasure in MS A to the Nidaros ordinal (For the information regarding Saint Hallvard’s Missa, see Gjerløw 1968, 343).



Lux illuxit letabunda, lux est nobis...


Lux illuxit letabunda, lux est nobis... Explicit lost.


10 strophes.


  • REISS, G. 1912: Musiken ved den middelalderlige Olavsdyrkelse i Norden, Kristiania, 44-52.
  • EGGEN, E. 1968: The Sequences of the Archbishopric of Nidarós, 2 vols., Bibliotheca Arnamagneana vol. XXI, I: 184-187, II (facs.): 124-125.

Date and place

Hallvard’s sequence is later than the sequence Lux illuxit for Sanctus Olavus, and builds on it to a certain degree; textually in the opening versicle and melodically in the strophes 1-7. The melody of Olav’s Lux illuxit is in Saint Hallvard’s adapted to fit the late style, connected with Adam of St. Victor (d. 1146); all strophes follow the same pattern of rhythm and rhyme. Reiss assumes that Olav’s sequence is written some time before or around 1200 (REISS 1911, 17), and places Hallvard’s sequence some time after this, late twelfth century or early thirteenth (REISS 1911, 49). REISS assumes that the composer is a priest from Oslo (1911, 48). Lilli Gjerløw assumes that Lux illuxit is a thirteenth-century composition intended for Saint Hallvard’s Cathedral in Oslo (GJERLØW 1968, 343n.).

Summary of contents

The contents follow the typical sequence course. The sequence opens with praise to the wonderful day of his feast, filled with the joyous light shining for us. The strophes 2-5 are about Hallvard’s transition from a worldly to an eternal life, and praise of his virtues in life and trade. The strophes 6-7 are in praise of the miracle of his body floating in spite of the stone. The strophes 8-10 are appeals to Hallvard to bring us salvation by his prayers.

Composition and style

The sequence is built up by ten strophes, each strophe consisting of versicle pairs following the same rhythm and melody. The first strophe, however, has two different melodic lines for its two versicles, like Olav’s Lux illuxit. The verses of the tenth strophe break with both rhythm and rhyme pattern, and could have been a single final versicle, although it is difficult to say since the final part of the sequence is not transmitted. The rhyme in a strophe goes over the two versicle pairs in this way: aab ccb. The sequence very much relates to its predecessor Lux illuxit, in melody if not in lyrics, but the composer has, as mentioned earlier, modernized the form by standardizing rhythm and rhyme throughout the sequence. The metre is a trochaic tetrameter of three lines, the third line catalectic (dropping the last syllable), 8p + 8p + 7pp, the most commonly used formula for sequences from the twelfth century onwards.

1a. Lux illuxit letabunda,

lux est nobis hec iocunda,

celesti letitia.

1b. Nobis ista sit lux leta,

dies ista sit repleta

spiritali gratia.

The preserved part of the tenth strophe opens with a trochaic verse of seven syllables followed by a verse of six syllables, 7pp + 6p:

10. Vita nostra lábilis prona lapsi dare,

In two of the versicles the fixed rhythm of the sequence goes against the natural stress of the words (celésti letítia vs. spíritáli grátia). To move around word stress is relatively common in both sequences and hymns, and does not seem to have bothered the medieval voice or ear much.

REISS does not value the poetic quality as highly as that of the Olav’s sequence Lux illuxit. He gets the impression that the more or less clumsy rhymes have been a governing force in the contents (REISS 1911, 49). The sequence may show some textual relationship with the Legend (1), but only to a very limited degree:

Pondera (l. 1) - pondus (v. 3b), saxum ad collum sancti ligaverunt et in profundum submerserunt (l. 3) - collo saxum alligatur sed ne martir submergatur (Christi fit potentia) (7a), cum saxo super mare natans repertum est (l. 3). - martir natat sed cum petra (v. 7b).

ODENIUS also finds it tempting to compare the last part of the Swedish text fragments with the three last lines of the 9th strophe: habes qui cecum illuminavit (f. 4v, l. 11) – fer salutem tua prece,[ne nos cecent] vi[e] cece [lutique] misere (v. 9) Saint Hallvard’s sequence quotes its more famous relative first and foremost in the first strophe; compare the quoted strophe above with that of Saint Olav: Lux illuxit letabunda, lux illustris lux iocunda. What seems to be another deliberate play of words with Saint Olav’s sequence is the use of felici commercio (happy trade) in the third strophe, an expression also used in the second strophe of Olav’s sequence Lux illuxit, as well as in his proper office “In regali” (in the verse of the 9th responsory of the Matins). While it for Olav refers to the happy trade of the martyr, receiving eternal life in return for his death, Hallvard’s sequence also gives it a more literal meaning: pondus sprevit falsitatis felici commercio (he despised a false weight in a happy trade).


The first versicle points to Olav’s sequence Lux illuxit, but apart from the first lines, the textual influence of the Olav’s sequence is limited. JOHNSEN (1949-51) sees the textual similarities between Saint Hallvard’s legend and his sequence as significant enough to assume that the composer knew the legend.

Purpose and audience

Lux illuxit is possibly a thirteenth-century composition intended for St. Hallvard’s Cathedral in Oslo (Gjerløw 1968, 343n).

Medieval reception and transmission

There are only two sources to the existence of Saint Hallvard’s Lux illuxit, both Icelandic. One is the entry of the incipit on erasure in MS A of the Nidaros ordinal (see above). The other is the sequence itself, discovered by Georg Reiss in 1908 on two fifteenth century Icelandic parchment fragments in the Arnamagnean collection in Copenhagen (AM 241 b IV, fol.). Apart from a small lacuna in versicle 4a, 4b and 10 the sequence was complete with text and musical notation. The ms was copied ca 1450 by the scribe Jón þorláksson. Since both the ordinal entry and the fragment are Icelandic, the Hallvard sequence seems to have made its way into practical use throughout the Nidaros archbishopric, in spite of the limited transmission.

• Copenhagen, The Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 241b, fol. IV, f1.


  • Acta sanctorum (AS), ed. Henschen, Antverpiæ 1680, Maii III
  • Breviarium Nidrosiense (BN), Paris 1519.
  • Diplomatarium Islandicum 5, Kaupmannahöfn and Reykjavik 1899-1902.
  • EGGEN, E. 1968: The Sequences of the Archbishopric of Nidarós, 2 vols., Bibliotheca Arnamagneana vol. XXI, I: 184-187, II (facs.): 124-125.
  • GJERLØW, L. (ed.) 1968: Ordo Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae (orðubók), Libri liturgici provinciae Nidrosiensis medii aevi, vol. II, Osloiae, 342-343, 421-424, 437.
  • JOHNSEN, A. O. 1949-51: ”Om Hallvardslegenden og ordalieforbudet”, (Norsk) Historisk tidsskrift 35, Oslo, 133-154
  • KLNM VI, Oslo 1961, ”Hallvard”, 65-67.
  • LANGEBEK, SRD III, 606-7.
  • ODENIUS, O. 1961-62: ”Et obeaktat fragment av S. Hallvards legend”, (Norsk) Historisk tidsskrift 41, Oslo.
  • REISS, G. 1912: Musiken ved den middelalderlige Olavsdyrkelse i Norden, Kristiania, 44-52.
  • STORM, G. (ed.) 1880: Monumenta Historica Norvegiæ. Latinske kildeskrifter til Norges historie i middelalderen, Kristiania. XXXXIV-V (description), and 155-158 (legend).
  • TORFÆUS, HRN III, 234-35.