Thursday, November 25, 2010

Princess Olinda, Princess Kristina

In real life as in literature, medieval princesses traveled far.

[In 1978, the city of Tønsberg donated this statue of Princess Kristina, by Brit Sørensen, to the town of Covarrubias. Photo by Ecelan.] 

In Amadis of Gaul, Olinda, a beautiful princess, is the daughter of King Vavain of Norway. She and Agrajes love each other, but because he is a mere knight, their love is secret.

Almost a century before Amadis was written, a beautiful princess from Norway had come to Spain to marry for dynastic advancement. In 1257, Kristina, daughter of King Håkon of Norway, traveled from Tønsberg to Valladolid to marry a brother of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castille.

Alfonso was trying to establish links with royal houses around Europe in a maneuver to become the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation. (It didn't work, but that's another story.) Håkon needed backing in his conflicts over trade privileges with the Hanseatic City of Lübeck. Norway got its wheat from Baltic fields through the port of Lübeck.

Kristina had been born in Bergen in 1234, and was described as blonde and beautiful with deep blue eyes. She had been well educated and spoke several languages. She left Tønsberg, near Oslo, in the summer of 1257 with a retinue of more than 100 noblemen and noblewomen, and a generous dowry of gold, silver, and furs. Detailed contemporary accounts testify to the splendor of her trip.

Her ship docked in Normandy, France, where she and her companions bought more than 70 horses and traveled to visit King Louis IX of France. He advised them that the best route to Spain was not by sea, due to Saracen pirates, but through France, and he offered a guide to accompany them.

And so, as autumn began, they began their trek, stopping at castles, towns, and monasteries, but at times sleeping under the stars. When they neared the city of Girona, Spain, they were received by the Count of Girona, who rode two miles outside the city to meet them, accompanied by a bishop and 300 men.

Soon afterwards on their trip, King Jaime I the Conqueror of Aragón met them three miles outside of Barcelona; he brought three bishops and an enormous retinue. Reportedly the King was so struck by her beauty that he proposed marriage, but she had other duties.

By Christmas Eve she had reached Burgos, where she stayed in the beautiful monastery of Las Huelgas, where the abbess was King Alfonso's sister. Kristina was feted, and she presented fine gifts to her hosts.

She began to her trip to the court of Castile in Valladolid, and King Alfonso met her in Palencia and accompanied her back to the court. She was received with great affection and celebration by the people of the city, the nobility, and the clergy.

It seems that the King had not yet decided which of his bachelor brothers should marry her, so she got to take her pick from Fadrique, Sancho, and Felipe. She chose Felipe. They were married on March 31, then went to live in Seville, where Felipe served as the secular archbishop. Seville at the time was a beautiful Moorish city, recently reconquered.

Apparently their marriage was happy though childless, but she fell ill and died four years later, some say due to the unfamiliar climate or from homesickness, others say from meningitis. She was interred in the monastery in Covarrubias.

Legend says her wish for a wedding gift was the erection of a chapel to St. Olav in Spain. Now that is being done. The Fundación Princesa Kristina de Noruega, which promotes cultural activities to better Spanish-Norwegian relations, is building St. Olav's Chapel and Bell Tower in a valley near Covarrubias. It will be a modern building suitable both for religious services and concerts, and the tower will provide a scenic view of the valley.

The website is in Spanish and Norwegian. The section marked "Evolución Construcción Capilla" is a series of photos that will entertain any small child fascinated by construction.

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