It was the goal of the medieval pilgrim to visit this grand cathedral, and it's still the goal of thousands of today's travelers. Usually the capital city of a country has the most spectacular cathedral, but not so in Norway. In grandeur, Nidaros dwarfs Oslo Cathedral. Dating from the 11th century, it's the most important, most historic, and most impressive ecclesiastical building in Scandinavia. It's located in the town center, near the Rådhus. The burial place of the medieval Norwegian kings, it was also the site of the coronation of Haakon VII in 1905, an event that marked the beginning of modern Norway.

Construction actually began on the cathedral in 1070, and some of its oldest parts still remain, mainly from the middle of the 1100s. Following the battle of Stiklestad, King Olaf Haraldson was entombed under the high altar. In time, Olaf became Saint Olaf, and his remains were encased in a gem-studded shrine.

The cathedral has weathered several unfortunate events. It's been a victim of fires that swept over Trondheim. The church was reconstructed each time in its original Gothic style. (The section around the transept, however, is Romanesque.) During the Reformation, the cathedral was looted of precious relics. By 1585, Nidaros had been reduced to the status of a parish church. Around 1869 major reconstruction work was begun to return the gray sandstone building to its former glory.

The west facade is particularly impressive, with its carved figures of royalty and saints. It's especially appealing after dark, when the facade is floodlit (the lights usually stay on every evening till midnight -- it's worth a stroll even if you have to make a detour to do it). The interior is a maze of mammoth pillars and columns with beautifully carved arches that divide the chancel from the nave. The grandest feature is the stunning rose window. The cathedral's stained-glass windows, when caught in the proper light, are reason enough to visit. Gustav Vigeland, the famous sculptor, carved the gargoyles and grotesques for the head tower and northern transept. A small museum inside displays the crown jewels of Norway.