During the Middle Ages many people undertook pilgrimages to visit Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. Today, the original paths have been cleared, and new pilgrims follow marked trails based on the routes taken by the wanderers of the past.
The first formal pilgrim trail was established between 1994 and 1997 in a cooperative effort between the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, and Norwegian municipalities and counties.
The pilgrim trails in Norway are historic trails traditionally used by wanderers on a pilgrimage to Trondheim. They are linked together by natural and cultural monuments that held religious significance in the Middle Ages as well as memorials commemorating King Olaf II Haraldsson (later Olaf the Saint).The pilgrim trails are a key part of the effort to re-establish Nidaros Cathedral as a pilgrimage site, and have become a popular destination for hiking among local populations as well.
The trails are based on historical routes and footpaths. Certain changes have been made to protect farm property and compensate for trails that no longer exist.
As a general rule, all approved official pilgrim trails are to lead to Trondheim. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage is responsible for approving the routes.
The route that first received approval goes from Oslo and to Trondheim and Stiklestad. Subsequently, approval has been given for routes passing through Østerdalen, the Rombolden trail from Sweden through Selbu and Tydal and the trail from Grong to Trondheim via Stiklestad.
In May 2005, responsibility for assessing and approving changes in the paths was transferred from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage to the municipal authorities.
The idea behind the official pilgrim trails was originally proposed to the Ministry of the Environment in 1992 by the office of the Oppland County Governor. The first project was carried out from 1994 to 1997, with project managers from both the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
In 2005, a coordinating committee was established with representatives from municipalities, counties, Innovation Norway, the Church of Norway, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management. The Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management was the secretariat from 2005 to 2007 and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage took over in September 2007.
In 2006, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage launched a programme to create new value in the cultural heritage sphere. A pilot project called The Pilgrim's Way was included under the programme, leading to renewed efforts towards marking and maintaining the trails and organising group walks.From the beginning of 2011, the pilot project's activities were transferred to the National Pilgrim Centre, established as a provisional project under the Directorate for Cultural Heritage. The centre's steering committee comprises representatives from a wide range of organisations including the Church of Norway, municipal authorities and relevant public authorities.The ministries are working to draw up a national strategy in connection with the Pilgrim's Way initiative. The centre will be reviewed in 2012 to determine whether it should be made permanent.The National Pilgrim Centre will support pilgrim-related activities throughout the nation by laying a foundation for increased, sustainable use of the pilgrim trails.
Work on mapping, clearing and marking the pilgrim trails began in 1994. The network of trails now stretches over 2 000 km in Norway alone. The website developed by the National Pilgrim Centre contains a map of pilgrimage routes to Trondheim as well as information on how to use the trip planner.