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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Heilagra meyja drápa, 53 [Vol. 7, 924-5]

[All]: S. Sunniva and her companions from the Norw. island of Selja (ON Selja) were among the relatively few Scandinavian saints venerated in Iceland. Selje, on the Stadt peninsula opposite the island, was an early Benedictine foundation, dedicated to S. Alban (before 1150), near the episcopal see of Bergen. Although the saints of Selje are among the oldest local Norw. saints (Johnsen 1968), Sunniva herself seems not to have become prominent until her relics were transferred from Selje to Bergen cathedral in 1170. For Icel. evidence of the cult, see Cormack 1994, 15, 19, 24, 34, 35, 154. The story of Sunniva is recounted in Icel. translations of Oddr Snorrason’s Lat. saga of Óláfr Tryggvason c. 1190 (ÓTOdd 1932, 96-103; Andersson 2003, 76-9; Widding, Bekker-Nielsen and Shook 1963, 333). Sunniva is said to have been the daughter of a king of Ireland, oppressed by a marauding viking. Rather than marry or fight him (the two choices he gave her), she and her followers fled east over the sea and came to land on the previously uninhabited islands of Selja and Kinn, where they lived in caves and where local people used to pasture their herds. The latter complained to Jarl Hákon, who set out with a large force to kill the intruders. Before this could happen, however, the community was engulfed by the caves collapsing over them. Eventually, in the reign of Óláfr Tryggvason, their Christian sanctity was recognised.

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