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The Bergen Map

St. Margaret's Church

Information on Margaretakirken (St Margareta’s Church) is very limited. If we want to say something about its location, or what kind of building it was, we’ll have to guess. Margaretakirken was probably located just outside the football field by the Aquarium at Nordnes. The church was most likely raised in honour of Princess Margareta of Norway and Scotland, also known as the Maid of Norway.

Princess Margareta was the daughter of King Eirik Magnusson and Queen Margareta of Scottish royal ancestry. The year after he was crowned in 1280, King Eirik married Margareta of Scotland, and in 1283 little Princess Margareta was born. Her mother was laid to rest that same year.

The motherless Princess Margareta was two years old when she was recognized as heir to the Scottish Crown. Six years old she was sent to Scotland to marry Prince Edward, the later king of England. Little Margareta never married, she took ill and died on the Orkneys in 1290. Her body was returned to Bergen, and she was laid beside her mother in the church of Christ. This alliance between Scotland and England ended up in nothing, and the story about princess Margareta very nearly ended before it started.

King Eirik died in 1299. A year later a woman arrived in Bergen, claiming to be the princess. Margareta and her husband arrived on a ship from Lübeck, and told the people in Bergen the following story: She had travelled towards Scotland together with the bishop and her foster mother Ingeborg and the foster mother’s husband Tore. At the Orkneys, where she allegedly had taken ill and died, she had in fact been sold by her foster mother. Later she ended up in Germany, and had eventually married. Upon her return she was claiming her rights as the king’s daughter.

Parts of the clergy in Bergen as well as a considerable amount of the people took to her story. But her claims were fruitless, neither the present bishop nor the authorities believed her story. She and her husband were both convicted as impostors. The husband was beheaded and the false Margareta was burnt on Nordnes in 1301.

Still, this is not the end of the story. Many people had had great faith in the false Margareta and had started to worship her at her execution place. The bishop did not approve of this and made a futile attempt to prohibit this practice in 1320. When the false Margareta had been dead for 60 years a church was raised in her honour on the execution site. This was most likely a small wooden church, possibly a stave church. Margaretakirken received gifts through wills from among others travelling merchants, the last one probably as late as in 1515. There may have been held services in the church up until the Reformation.

The story behind St Margareta’s church is a story about the people’s conviction of a truth inconsistent with the authorities’. But why were the authorities so certain that Margareta’s story was false? For one thing it turned out that Margareta from Lübeck’s hair was grey in colour. It also seemed that she had not been very well informed on birth dates and years: according to her own statements she was around forty years old. If the princess had lived, she would by the year 1300 be 17 years old. If more evidence were needed to disclose the scam, it sufficed that little Margareta’s identity had been confirmed by her father upon her body’s return from the Orkneys.

Examples of modest stave churches from the Middle Ages: This one (12th century) is from Gauldal in Sør-Trøndelag, but is now found in Trøndelag Museum

Bergenshistorie

Til alle som har en fot i fortidens Bergen - hva med Elisabeth Welhavens fornøyelige historier fra Bergen rundt 1800? Boken kan bestilles på Histos forlag!

The marital pact between King Eirik and Margareta's mother, which makes her the hair to the Scottish throne. From National Archives of Scotland.