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A Patron Saint for the Innocent

St. Hallvard (d. 1043)
Feast day: May 14

In the small army of Scandinavia's saints, one of the most appealing is St. Hallvard. He was a Catholic at a time when the faith was new to Norway, when the old, violent ways of the Vikings had retreated a bit, but not surrendered.
Hallvard was a seafarer who traded furs, walrus ivory and amber in the ports along the Baltic Sea. One day Hallvard was about to sail across Oslo's Drammenfjord, when he heard a cry. Looking up, he saw a pregnant woman stumbling down the dock toward his ship. As she climbed aboard, she begged Hallvard to help her. Three men had accused her falsely of theft and were out to kill her.
The Norway's Nobel Prize-winning author and Catholic convert, Sigrid Undset, who knew as much about pre-Christian Scandinavia as she did about the glory days of the Church during the Middle Ages, explains that this desperate woman must have ranked at the bottom of society. A free-born wife and mother accused of theft would have seen her kinsmen rally around to protect her. The fact that the woman had to turn to Hallvard, a complete stranger, for help is a pretty clear indication that she was either a slave or the poorest of the poor. And her life truly was in danger - under Norwegian law at the time, the penalty for thievery was death.
Hallvard, on the other hand, was the son of a well-to-do Christian family of landowners and merchants. On his mother's side he was a close relative of the king and martyr, St. Olaf. No one would have blamed him if he turned his back on this friendless woman. Yet instead of abandoning her, Hallvard believed her, helped her into his boat and began to row toward the opposite shore of the fjord where she could escape. Hallvard had not gotten far, however, when the woman's pursuers ran out onto the pier, leapt into an empty boat, and came after the woman and Hallvard.
"Give us that miserable piece of womanhood!" they cried.
"What wrong has she done?" Hallvard shouted back at them.
The men claimed that the woman had torn off the door bolt of their brother's house and stolen valuables from it. Such a charge convinced Hallvard the woman was innocent. "It would take a strong man to do that," Hallvard answered. Then he added that to satisfy the men he would pay them the value of whatever was missing from the house. But Hallvard's offer was not good enough; the pursuers wanted the woman herself. When Hallvard refused to turn her over, one of the men took his bow and fired arrow after arrow. One arrow pierced Hallvard's throat, killing him. In the rain of arrows the woman Hallvard had tried to protect was killed, too.
To cover up their crime, the three men buried the woman on the shore, but Hallvard's body they weighted with a millstone and dumped it into the sea. In spite of the great stone tied to it, Hallvard's body floated. The Christians of Oslo hailed it as a miracle.
He was buried in the little church on his parents' farm, but as devotion to St. Hallvard spread, his relics were moved to Christ Church in Oslo.
The Reformation destroyed St. Hallvard's shrine, but not his memory. In Norway St. Hallvard is still honored in as the patron saint of Oslo, while the Catholic world venerates him as the patron of the innocent.

Craughwell is the author of Patron Saints Catholic Cardlinks (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004), Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001) and the newly released Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday).

Copyright (c) 2006 Arlington Catholic Herald

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