Pilgrim 4 Peace program

Pilgrim4Peace is an international collaborative program developed between public and private, national and local actors associated with the St. Olav's Roads to Trondheim. The program is initiated by Nidaros Pilegrimsgård, the Pilgrim Center in Trondheim, and will be run with project management from there. The project partners range widely from research and educational institutions, local businesses, religious and religiously neutral organizations, human rights organizations, student organizations, festivals, voluntary and non-profit associations from different countries where the European pilgrimage routes are marked. A presentation of our partners is found in the end of the presentation.


After years of peace in Europe, conflict is once again blighting the continent. In order to foster peace in Europe, we see it as essential to develop forums where young people can engage in dialogue on our common challenges, such as: human rights, the environment, intercultural questions, religion and freedom of thought, diversity and gender equality.

Borders have historically been and remain areas of conflict. While necessary for securing a state’s sovereignty and the protection of its citizens, borders can represent barriers to the freedom of movement of both people and ideas. While a border may be obvious in the landscape through a checkpoint or a wall, it is often the invisible barriers that borders create that are most recognizable as our culture, our identity and our perceptions become nationally routed.

The map of Europe has many borders which testify to a long history of conflict. These borders can be read as scars in the landscape from wars that occurred in different places at different times. Yet do these borders not also serve as potential bridges; as places of learning between people? How might these spaces serve as classrooms for learning about our past – its conflicts and peace processes? How can we use these environments to embolden our struggle for a peaceful Europe? And might they serve as fertile ground for the forming of friendships and the creation of conciliatory dialogue – the most important tools we have for peacebuilding in Europe.

Crisscrossing these borders are old roads and trails that have always connected people through Europe. These trails serve to remind us of what has come before us, of cultural exchange and the desire to explore and travel. Today, some of these historic routes are marked as European cultural routes under the European Council Program Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes. The pilgrimage routes St. Olav Ways to Trondheim are part of the European Cultural Route Network. The pilgrim4peace program aims to develop these paths as an arena for youths to discuss these important matters of human rights, and to strengthen cross- cultural dialogue.

The modern pilgrim tradition, a short history

In 2030 we will celebrate that it has been a thousand years since St. Olav died in the battle of Stiklestad in Norway in 1030. In 1031, Olav was declared a saint, and the Nidaros cathedral was raised over his body. This moment was later claimed to be the birth date of Norway as one united Christian country and with it, Norway’s integration into the European Catholic world. The cathedral became the northernmost pilgrimage destination in the years to come, but the tradition stopped after the reformation in 1537, when Norway became Protestant. The pilgrimage tradition, originally so central to Catholic practice, came to decline over the years, but it never truly died out.

Some years ago, the pilgrim route to St. James’s grave in Santiago de Compostella, increased in popularity after being included as part of the European Cultural Route program. After this the number of pilgrims to Santiago has increased dramatically. We also see this trend in other places, where now modern pilgrims are using these old trails for recreation and pleasure. The modern pilgrimage phenomenon differs from the Middle Ages movement. It is no longer solely a religious activity, but is rather turning into an arena for cultural experiences, people-to-people interaction, and for the exchange of ideas. Opportunities for outdoor recreation, meeting local people, sampling local food, and witnessing their traditions are valued by many pilgrims. The phenomenon is increasing in both popularity and number. The number of routes are also increasing, and in some areas pilgrimage is now an important and sustainable tourist trend that is spreading all across the world.

In 1997 the Norwegian government decided to establish two marked hiking paths to the old pilgrimage center of Trondheim: one from the capital Oslo going north, and one from the east, originating in the Swedish town of Selånger just next to the Eastern-sea. After this there are now 9 St. Olavs paths established. These are now connected to paths in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, all forming part of the St. Olav ways, and the network is still expanding. The management of the St. Olav ways is done by ACSOW, the Association for the Cultural Routes of St. Olav ways. The board has representatives for all the Scandinavian partners. The routes are great arenas for people to meet, discuss and reflect while partaking in an activity together, and sharing common experiences. The pilgrim 4 peace program aims to facilitate more of this meeting for new groups in society working for a better understanding of cultural differences and dialogue around human rights.