Selje Monastery | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Selje Monastery

Selje, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway

Lucy Davidson

24 Mar 2020
Image Credit: Wikimedia / CC

About Selje Monastery

Selje Monastery (Selje Kloster) is a picturesque ruined Benedictine monastery in Norway. Dating back to the early 12th century, Selje Monastery was dedicated to St. Sunniva, the country’s only female patron saint.

History of Selje Monastery

Selje Monastery was a Benedictine monastery located on the island of Selja in the municipality of Stad, Vestland, Norway. Founded in around 1100, the construction of the Benedictine monastery is told in the legend  of St. Sunniva, the patron saint of Bergen.

According to the legend, Sunniva was heir to an Irish kingdom but had to flee from a heathen king, and landed on the island of Selja where she died. When the monastery was founded, it was an important religious site as the location of a shrine to St. Sunniva, and was therefore a place for pilgrimage, the seat of a bishopric and a cathedral which was established in around 1070. 

The bishopric was instrumental in the establishment of the monastery. However, the bishop moved to Bergen soon after the monastery was founded, meaning the monastery was left on the island alone. For the first two centuries of its existence it was a key centre for travellers travelling between Bergen and Nidaros. However, a terrible fire in 1305 meant that the monastery could not be recovered, with the small remaining community likely being completely or at least nearly all lost to the Black Death in 1349. 

The final blow for Selje Monastery came at the hands of Bishop Finnboge of Bergen (1461-1474), who dismissed the last abbot in a failed attempt to gain the Pope’s favour by diverting its resources towards the See of Bergen. Due to the lack of later habitation, the monastery as well as the shrine to St. Sunniva are extensive and extremely well preserved. 

Selje Monastery today

Selje Monastery is a popular tourist site, with Visit Norway guides leading small parties around the island whilst telling them exciting stories about the legend of St. Sunniva and the monastery itself. You are able to walk around the same halls as the Benedictine monks did over 700 years ago, and climb the narrow stairways to the top of the tower. You can retrace St. Sunniva’s steps into the holy Cave of Sunniva, and taste the supposedly healing waters around the island.

The boat trip adds to the experience in itself. On the north side of the island, you can see the southern side of the Stadt Peninsula towards the Western Cape of Norway, where small villages are peppered between steep and beautiful cliffs on the coastline. One of these is the village of Drage, where the Vikings pulled their boats over the mountain rather than face the infamous sea of Stadt. On the southern side of the island are several islands and lighthouses.

Nearby, the Norwegian Government are preparing to build the world’s first ship tunnel.

Getting to Selje Monastery

The island of Selje is located 15 minutes by boat from Selje’s mainland, and there are daily departures from Selje to the island all year round. Flights to Selje from Norway’s capital Oslo take just over an hour for those who are looking for something wild and brimming with history. 

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