Just east of the UK, along the southern shore of the island Klosterøy, lies the secluded Utstein monastery. The island is a mere 1.7 square kilometers or 420 acres of land. Though it’s less than 1% of all the land of Norway, the Utstein monastery remains the only standing church from the medieval period.
Norway is known for its lush landscapes, welcoming people, and rich history. Norway’s past expands to 10,000 BC when early humans settled across the globe, but the 9th century is where the medieval Utstein monastery’s story began.
Delving Into Daneland
King Harald Fairhair
Before it was built, the land was used for farming. A man by the name of Harald Fairhair unified various clans of Norway in the battle of Hafrsfjord and adopted a monarchy system. You can imagine who was appointed king.
One of King Harald’s crowning achievements was heralding the defeat of a neighboring king, Kjotve the Rich. As monarchs lived and died, a new leader stepped into power and converted the Utstein land from battlefield to sanctuary.
King Magnus Law-Mender
Apparently, epic last names are part of the package to be a Viking monarch. Known for modernizing Norway’s laws, King Magnus pushed for temporal authority to rule the church. While King Magnus faced adversity from his own government officials, he cultivated strong relationships with the English and Swedish King. After King Magnus’ brother kidnapped his wife, they spent decades fighting Denmark. Despite having a colorful past, King Magnus lived, breathed, exuded piety, and encouraged his subjects to do the same.
The Utstein land became royal land, and King Magnus commissioned a church to be constructed. Mostly built in the 13th century, the grounds hold the Utstein Church and the Utstein Monastery. The facility could house a dozen people comfortably in addition to servants, cooks, and farmhands.
Perseverance: The Utstein Way
Three hundred years later, the 16th century ushered in the Reformation, a temporal reorganization of religious affairs. Monasteries were discouraged, even destroyed. Bishops and saints were persecuted. The Utstein Monastery was left to remain along the coast and wither against the saltwater. Even after the Reformation concluded, the monastery sat vacant for another 200 years.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that the Garmann family inhabited the estate and brought new life into a dying land. The Garmanns were farmers by trade and honored the Utstein monastery’s past by continuing to care for the coastal cliffs. Abandoned buildings were repaired, animals were bred, and the family broke bread together.
The Utstein monastery passed through several generations, a few farmers and became a museum in the 1930s. While some of the land is owned by agricultural farmers, these families take great pride in caring for these historic spaces. The Utstein monastery is far from abandoned nowadays, but the medieval architecture prevails and reminds visitors of the value of the past. Utstein land lives on, doing what it always has: providing a secluded sanctuary to a medieval world.