Stavanger is situated in southwestern Norway, and is bordered on the west by the North Sea, and on the east by Gandsfjorden. It probably started life in the 8th century as a small fishing port, but first traces of settlement date back about 10,000 years, to when the ice retreated after the last ice-age. Stavanger became more important in about 1125 when St Swithun’s Cathedral was built by the English Bishop Reinald of Winchester, and in the 15th century it received a royal charter as a trading town. In 1873 the first fish preserving plant was opened, and Stavanger became a prominent and wealthy area. By the 1920’s there were 70 canneries; with fish and fish products, particularly sardines as the most important export; the inventor of the sardine can key came from Stavanger! Over the years these factories gradually closed, until the last one shut in 1983. As the sardine industry waned, the oil industry took over. When the first off-shore oil deposits were discovered in the North Sea in the 1960’s, Stavanger was chosen to be the centre for Norway’s oil and gas industry.
Oceana backed into her berth at Stavanger at about 8.30 this morning, and after a leisurely breakfast we disembarked. It was overcast and drizzly, and after the clear skies and fresh air of Olden, I found it quite depressing. We walked along the edge of the old harbour or ‘Vagen’, and then wandered into the city centre. It was a strange mixture of tightly packed streets, and open spaces, quaint old shops, and modern buildings. Old Stavanger – ‘Gamle Stavanger’ is next to the city centre, and along narrow cobbled streets, with old-fashioned lampposts, are 173 18th century wooden houses. Originally a poor working class area, the houses were first painted white in the mid 19th century, and now all the buildings have preservation orders.
I wanted to buy a Norwegian jumper as a souvenir of my visit to Norway, and this was the last possible opportunity to find one. We spotted a tourist shop that might possibly have some jumpers. The shop front was narrow, and we could see barely anything through the small latticed windows in the white-painted weatherboard. We stepped over the threshold, and into the shop. It was dim and murky inside, narrow and long, like the shops we had visited in Bergen. Touristy knick-knacks lined the shelves and hung from the dark wooden walls, but right at the back I found just what I was looking for; a red, Norwegian knitted jumper, lined, wind-proof, water-proof, with a traditional style Norwegian pattern around the shoulders. It was exactly what I wanted. It was a bit expensive, but what the heck – I was on holiday!
In the afternoon we visited St Swithun’s Cathedral, or ‘Stavanger Domkirke’. It was originally built in the early 12th century, as a Roman basilica in an Anglo-Norman style, probably using craftsmen from Northern England. It was badly damaged by fire in 1272, and was rebuilt, with the addition of a new gothic choir and vestibule with a vaulted roof. The building itself has remained largely unchanged since the 14th century, although some alterations and modernizations inside have been made. It was quiet and reverent inside, away from the bustle of the world. A few tourists tip-toed around, careful not to disturb a couple of women sitting with their heads bowed in prayer. There was an ancient, solid sort of feeling to this place. I stood still, and remembered that thousands upon thousands of people had worshipped God in this cathedral for over 900 years. We are all pilgrims travelling through life. Children are born, the old die; life moves inexorably on, new ideas, progress, modernisation; but God is the constant, running through history, holding it all together.
I look around, and in front of me in the far wall above the altar is a large stained glass window, made in 1957 by Victor Sparre. In many shades of blue and red, it shows events from Christ’s life, including Christmas and Easter.
To the right, is the pulpit. It is an amazing work of art, carved in the 17th century by Andrew Smith, a Scottish craftsman. It is intricately carved, and shows the complete history of the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve at the bottom of the steps, and finishing with Christ at the top of the canopy. Stavanger Domkirke has been in continuous use as a place of Christian worship for over 900 years, and is the best preserved medieval church in Norway.
Despite the gloomy weather, it has been a good last day in Norway. Later this afternoon, Oceana will be leaving the Fjords, making her way out into the North Sea and begin her voyage back to Southampton.