The son of King Harald Grenske of Norway, he spent most of his youth as a Norse raider until 1010 when he was baptized at Rouen. In 1013, he journeyed to England and offered his services to King Ethelred against the invading Danes. Returning home in 1015 after succeeding to the throne, he embarked upon a war to free Norway from the domination of the Danes and the Swedes, defeating Earl Sweyn at Nesje in 1016. He had a comparatively peaceful reign for almost 10 years, and during this period considerably advanced the unification of Norway.
With the aid of English missionaries he succeeded in making Norway Christian. King Olaf established peace and security for his people, remaking old laws and insisting on their execution, unaffected by bribes or threats. He built many churches, including one dedicated to St. Clement at the capital. All other faiths except Christianity were outlawed.
In 1029, King Olaf faced a rebellion of nobles. Through the aid of the formidable King Canute of Denmark, the rebels overthrew him and drove him into exile in Russia. Olaf returned in 1031 but was slain in battle at Stiklestad, Norway, on July 29. Soon miracles began to be manifested at St. Olaf’s body: a light was seen over it at night; a blind man recovered his sight on pressing his fingers, dipped in the saint’s blood, to his eyes; springs of water with healing properties flowed from his grave; and then, his body was found to be incorrupt. Soon the penitent Norwegians expelled the Danes, and recalled Olaf’s son Magnus from Russia to be their king.
The incorruption of Olaf’s body was certified by his loyal Bishop Grimkel, whose see was Nidaros (Trondheim). As we read in St. Olaf’s Saga: “Bishop Grimkel went into the market and the whole crowd greeted him. He asked carefully about the miracles which were related of King Olaf and learned a great deal from this questioning. [Two men in particular told the bishop] all the remarkable things which they knew and also the place where they had hidden the king’s body. The bishop then went with some men to the place where the king’s body was buried and had it dug up. It was twelve months and five days from the death of the king to the day his holy relics were taken up. Bishop Grimkel went to the opened coffin of King Olaf, from which there proceeded a precious fragrance. The bishop then uncovered the king’s face, and it was completely unchanged: the cheeks were red as if he had just fallen asleep. Those who had seen King Olaf when he fell noticed a great difference in that his hair and nails had grown almost as much as they would have done if he had been alive in this world all the time since his fall.”
St. Olaf was greatly respected as a champion of Norwegain independence, and his shrine became the foundation of the cathedral of Trondheim, which was a popular place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. He is the patron of Norway.