Munkholmen: Island With Intriguing Yet Dark And Scary History – A place does not have to be large to have long and rich history. Munkholmen is certainly proof of that.

Located in the Trondheim fjord, Norway, Munkholmen is a beautiful small island that is today a popular tourist destination. However, this was by no means the case in the past. Visiting Munkholmen was something most wanted to avoid at all cost.

The small island has a very intriguing, yet dark and scary history.

Heads On Stakes As Warning To Enemies

During the Viking Age, Munkholmen served as a main place for execution. Heads of enemies of the state were placed on stakes as a warning to potential enemies.

Olav Tryggvason, Viking King of Norway from 995 to 1000, ordered to place the severed heads of Haakon Sigurdsson  and Tormod Kark on stakes as warning to visitors.

Munkholmen: Island With Intriguing Yet Dark And Scary History
Munkholmen Image credit: Trondheim

According to legends, those who visited the island must spit on the heads to pay tribute to King Olav Tryggvason.

The tradtion of displaying severed heads on stakes continued for some years. What changed was that the heads of criminals and political enemies were placed so that they faced the city of Trondheim instead.

It was considered an efficient method to deter citizens from committing crimes.

One Of The First Monasteries In Scandinavia

Later a monastery was established  on Munkholmen, but who came up with the idea is a question of historical disagreement.

According to English sources, King Cnut the Great established the monastery in 1028.

If we instead rely on Norwegian and Icelandic sources, we learn that it was one of Magnus Berrfot’s men, Sigurd Ullstrengson, who was the founder of Holm (Nidarholm) monastery in the early 12th century. This particular monastery was part of the Cluniac order and worshipped Saint Benedict and Saint Lawrence.

See also:

Cnut The Great – England’s Danish King And Ruler Of One Of The Largest Nordic Empires

Famous Viking Warrior Eric “Bloodaxe” Haraldsson: King Of Norway

Sverd I Fjell – Swords In Rock: Battle Of Hafrsfjord Won By Harald Fairhair – First King Of Norway

1,200-Year-Old Viking Sword Found By Hiker In Norway

Explore The Mysterious Ancient World Of The Vikings

With a monastery on the island one would think the bloody history of Munkholmen had come to an end. However, this was not the case.

The island continued to be used for keeping prisoners. King of Norway Magnus IV Sigurdsson (ca. 1115-1139) also known as Magnus the Blind was captured and placed on Munkholmen as a prisoner between 1135 and 1137. Later he joined the monastery as a monk.

The monastery on Munkholmen was one of the first monasteries in the Nordic countries. However, it was damaged by fire on several occasions, in 1216, 1317 and 1531.

Sometime people who tried to escape the prosecution of the Reformation fled to Munkholmen and hid in the monastery, but at the end they always had to surrender.

An Impressive Fortress 

Following the Swedish siege of Trondheim in 1658 and the reconquest of the city the following year by Danish and Norwegian troops, a fortress was erected on Munkholmen.

Munkholmen: Island With Intriguing Yet Dark And Scary History
A lighthouse was later built. Image credit: Wikipedia

The fortress was completed in 1707 and much of it has survived until today.

In the 17th and 18th century the island was used as a State Prison.

Those who were transported to Munkholmen were in most cases political prisoners. The most famous who served time here was Peder Griffenfeld, a Danish statesman who was imprisoned on Munkholmen for 18 years.

Today, when you set foot on the island you will find a lovely beach, a restaurant and café, but the place is of great historical importance and one is always reminded of the events that took place here.

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