There are no visible remains from Munkeliv Monastery today. The remains from the large monastery is found below ground in the square that is called Klosteret – The Monastery. In the Middle Ages, Munkeliv Monastery was situated on an elevated spot, with its walls and towers overlooking the landscape. Monks, and later nuns, lived in Munkeliv in peaceful work, study and prayer – but had also to endure fires and fights.
It is said that Munkeliv Monastery was founded by King Øystein Magnusson (1103-23). Historians are undecided regarding which order the first monks belonged to. One source indicate that the monastery was first dedicated to St Nicholas. Other sources tell us that the first monks belonged to the Benedictine Order, and that King Øystein dedicated the convent to the arch angel Michael. The monastery’s church received its name from him – the Arch Angel Michael’s Church.
The Benedictine monks lived as Benedict of Nursia wanted pious men to live: prayer and work, work and prayer. The medieval monk had many everyday tasks, one of which was to grow herbs, and the monastery was said to have a very good herb garden. In addition to working the monks should always bear their main task in mind – the prayers that were to be offered at certain times of the day.
The Order of the Holy Birgitta also moved into Munkeliv in 1426. The nuns lived and worked according to the words of the holy Birgitta of Vadstena from Sweden (1302-73). Archaeological excavations show that Munkeliv probably was rebuilt around this time. If both nuns and monks were to stay in the same monastery they would have to be kept strictly apart!
The monastery became subject to many political differences over the years. As a result it was occasionally burnt down. In 1198, the bishop of Oslo burnt it down. The Vitali brothers, infamous pirates, burnt Munkeliv in 1393.
In 1455 the knight Olav Nilssøn of Talgøy was the king’s governor in Bergen. He had made several efforts to make the Hanseatic merchants pay taxes, but rather than succeed at this, the Hanseatics persuaded the king to remove Olav from office. After this, Olav started pirating the Hanseatic merchant ships. Armed Hanseatics then followed Olav to Munkeliv Monastery, where they killed him as well as the bishop, and burnt down the monastery.
Bergen burnt again in 1489, and the fire left Munkeliv in ashes. In 1525 lord Vincens Lunge owned the monastery. Bergen’s Bishop Olav moved into Munkeliv in 1531, and stayed there until the Reformation in 1537. That year the commanding officer in Bergen set fire to the Arch Angel Michael’s Church.
Let us not forget that peace, prayer and work dominated the existence in the convent in between all the fighting and fires. Munkeliv was also the richest monastery in Bergen. It owned large properties which gave a good income. These big properties were turned over to the king after the Reformation, who in turn gave some of them on to his men. The herb garden, however, was taken over by pharmacists.