Background and activities


In his "Apologia" of 1125, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux questions the purpose of the fantastic beasts, the monstrous creatures, the scenes of hunt, and all the twisted and hybrid figures so frequently represented in Romanesque sculpture. Bernard had never visited the northers edge of Christianity, but this particular universe of fantastic creatures also reached Urnes, in the Norwegian Sogne Fjord, as early as 1131-1132. The natural sciences have over the last decades developed dendrochronology as methodology, and this allows us to know exactly when the chieftain of Urnes had the wood cut for his new church. In this wave of renewal, where a brand new stave church replaced the old one for no apparent reason but changing fashions, the portal of the old church was kept and inserted in the north wall. This older portal has been dated to 1070, and this is what gave name to the latest of the Viking Age style groups; the Urnes style. Urnes church is now a UNESCO monument.


“The Urnes Project” is a research project financed by NTNU, UNESCO and the Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage. The project consists of eleven scholars from Europe and The United States. Its aim is to examine the iconography both of the portal, and the interior capital sculpture. The essays will be published together  under the title «Urnes and its Gobal Romanesque Connections». The projects participants are; Dr. Thomas E. A. Dale (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. Kirk Ambrose (University of Colorado, Boulder), Dr. Elizabeth den Hartog (Leiden University), Dr. Griffin Murray (University College Cork, Irland), Dr. Birgit Maixner (NTNU, Trondheim) Dr. Nathalie le Luel (Université catholique de l'Ouest, Angers), Dr. Øystein Ekroll (Nidaros domkirkes restaureringsarbeider, Trondheim), Ingrid Lunnan Nørseth (NTNU, Trondheim), Leif Anker (The Directorate of Heritage, Oslo), Kjartan Hauglid (The Royal Palace Oslo). Dr. Kristin Bliksrud Aavitsland (Norwegian School of Theology), Linn Borgen (Oslo University).

Dr. Margrete Syrstad Andås (NTNU, Trondheim) is project manager.


Sub project: The Marginal in stave church imagery.

From the earliest days of Romanesque until the end of the Gothic we find a large body of motifs that are neither biblical nor narrative. The popularity of fighting beasts, grotesque masks, and expressive faces was long-lived. These images often appear in the margins, and may thus be seen as commenting upon and defining the centre. One may find apt explanation for singular motifs, but mostly, these images are not presenting us with a puzzle, if only the right set of texts are studied. Often, their decorative qualities are far more obvious than any religious (or other) content This form of imagery challenges traditional iconography.

The field of medieval art history has debated the meaning of such images since the mid-nineteenth century. The interest in this art of ‘indeterminability’ has increased since the early 1990s, as they have been debated within the framework of ‘the monstrous’ or ‘the marginal.’ Accordingly, they are often referred to as ‘marginal art.’ The rise of visual studies has offered yet another chance to examine this puzzling and gripping artistic vocabulary. A substantial amount of the preserved material from medieval Norway feature such motifs. I examin the role of ‘marginal imagery’ in the creation of sacred spaces in stone and stave churches. Stave churches take on a particualr role in my sub project, as they feature nothing but marginal imagery, in the dragon portals, the brackt masks, and in their overal aestethic language of visual entanglement.


Subproject and forthcoming article: 

Entering Jerusalem. Candlemas and Churching in the Lives of the Women of the North.

In this project, I study the role of Candlemas and Churching in the lives of the women of the north in medieval times. The revelation of St. Birgitta of Sweden, Book VII, Ch. 2, describes the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also called Candlemas, which commemorates three central religious events of entry comprised in one story: (1) The offering of a firstborn son to the Temple of Jerusalem, (2) Mary’s post-partum re-entry into the Temple of Jerusalem, and (3) and the reception of the child by Simeon; the old man who had received God’s promise that he would behold the Messiah. All these aspects of Luke 2: 22-38 are noted in St Birgitta’s vision, yet her revelation contains additional layers of meaning and information less obvious to the modern reader. St Birigtta goes on to describe a procession of virgins and ladies accompanying the blessed Virgin for her Entry in the Temple. For a woman like St Birgitta, belonging to the higher strata of society, and herself many times a mother, the description also reflects her own Churching, and the Churching of other women of her standing. There might not have been angels present, but all the best women her society would have been chosen to accompany her as she entered her own church, the local temple of Jerusalem and the earthly gate to the heavenly city. Candlemas might only have come around once a year, but Churching would have been amongst the most frequently celebrated of medieval rituals, following the birth of a child, whether this lived or died. And in all these celebrations the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem were brought into play through the repetition and re-enactment of religious memories, an in the construction of personal ones. On the threshold of the local church, there simply was no forgetting Jerusalem. 


Sub project: Religious time needs religious place: The making of a sacred landscape at Nidarneset c. 970-1200

What appears to be the remains of St Clement’s church, the edifice most closely connected to St Olaf in the sagas, are currently under excavation in Trondheim. By its association with royalty and sanctity, this location formed a nexus for expansive structural changes taking place throughout the North around the turn of the last millennium. Christianity brought with it fundamental changes to laws, beliefs, and concepts of time. Medieval religious perceptions of time, as communicated daily through liturgy, demanded a sacred landscape. Time needed place. St Olaf and the places sanctified by his body were at the heart of this religious and urban transformation. In this sub-project, I study religion’s role in shaping the urban landscape of Trondheim. This entails mapping the location of churches, exploring their functions in relation to one other and the ruling elite, and studying how these buildings were formed and reshaped according to St Olaf’s cult. Archaeological and liturgical material, as well as other contemporary and later textual accounts, are here examined .


Images of Entry 

(Forthcomin article: "The Portal in literaty sources from the north.")

The project examines visual and literal images of religious entry from the North from the period c.1100-1350. From a theological perspective, soul and space were important to salvation history. The understanding of sacred space changed from the early to the high middle ages, when sacred space was considered to be qualitatively different form the space outside. The project examined literal and visual images of entry, as they appear on church portals and baptismal fonts. A substantial part of the motifs here met with are of the type traditionally labelled” marginal art,” which is a genre of motifs explored within the framework of NTNU project Reframing the Margin.


The Trondheim Cathedral. Histories Behind History

This monograph is financed by the Norwegian Non-fiction Writers And Translators Association (NFF). The book project is directed towards a wide audience, and consists of ten essays on medieval objects and elements which may still be seen in the Cathedral today. The texts aim to show how for instance sculpture, inscriptions, or portals, tell stories about a culture and a mind-set very different from our own.

Research interests:

Sacred space and religious symbolism

Liturgical and secular processional practices and the use of space

Liturgical ritual in medieval Scandinavia

Legal ritual in medieval scandinavia



Notions of purity/impurity in medieval legal and theological texts and in religious practices

Early Gothic architecture


Biography: Ph.D. from the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for the Study of the Cultural Heritage of Medieval Ritual, University of Copenhagen, spring 2013; BA and M.Phil. from the University of Oslo 200. Lecturer in Art History and Church History at NTNU, the University of Oslo, and the University of Copenhagen 2002-2013. Fellowships and Grants: Authors´ grant from NFFO 2012-2013; Research fellow, the Strathmartine Research Centre, St. Andrews, fall 2006; NORFA Research fellow, Center for Medieval Studies, UiO, Spring 2005; Fulbright Research fellow, Divinity School, Yale University, 2001-2002.


On-going book projects (for summaries, se above):

Images of Entry. Cases from the North.

Nidarosdomen. Historier bak historien.


Latest talks and conference papers:

«En riktig gammel kirke: Barteløver, kuleøyne og gotiske kapiteler» Margrethe Syrstad Andås, NTNU og Kjartan Hauglid, UiO, Jubileet Sakshaug kirke 835 år. Sakshaug, Trøndelag 27-29.09.2019.

"Objects from Nidaros. Looking at Medieval Art from the Trøndelag Region from the 1198 Mære Beam Head to the Hov Crucifix." Royal Saints Kings and Peoples. St. Olaf in Context. The 2nd Nexus Nidaros Conference. Trondheim 29.11.2018

""Re-reading the 1070 Urnes Portal: Who is the King of Glory?" The  Urnes Project, Urnes 22-25.9.2018.

"Public Penance and Physical Spaces as Hotspots for the Definition of the Self", workshop at NIKU, NFR project "The Creative Self. The Construction of the Self in Social Spaces," Oslo 20-22.06.2018

"Religiøst liv og kirkelandskap i Nidaros før 1200," NIDARK paper, NTNU University Museum, Trondheim  May 29, 2018.

"Making it Known to Man: Church Portals in the Liturgical and Legal Pratices of the North," Mittlealterliche Portale als Orte der Transformation (BMBF), University of Bamberg, Bamberg, January 2018.

"Religious Time needs Religious Place," Challenging 997. Church, Town, Saint. St Clement's Church and the Development of Trondheim 900-1150, NTNU, Trondheim, December, 2019.

"Processions in the Medieval Townscape: The Laypeople as Ritual Agents and Audience." Scecond Fiddels in Medieval Ritual. NTNU, Trondheim, November 2017.

"Screens and Galleries in Norway 1130-1275," IV. Forum Kunst des Mittelalters, Berlin und Brandenburg, September 2017.

"Middelalderens kirkebygg. Aktuelle forskningstema," Middelalderkirkene. En flik av verden i det norske landskapet, Riksantikvaren, Fagernes, September 2017.

"Revisiting Stve Church Portal Iconography: The Case of Nesland III," The Completion of the Stave Church Programme - what have we learnt?, Riksantikvaren, Oslo 14.-15. juni 2016. 

Prophetic Materiality; Rauðúlfs þáttr and metals as religious-political symbols,” Matter and Materiality, Conference University of Oslo, December 2015

"Fra vugge til grav. Kirkerommet i middelaldermenneskets liv," Stiklestadseminaret, November 2015

”Prosesjoner i byrommet. Et foredrag om det rituelle livet i middelalderens Nidaros og om gangr som uttrykksform,”Fortidsminneforeningens foredragsserie, April 2015

“Synd og fortapelse i kunst fra middelalderens Trøndelag,” Kunnskapsbyen Trondheim, February 2015

“Dåpen og Kunsten,” NDR og Norsk Pilegreimssenters konferanse om Dåpen, November 2014

”Marias minner, mors minner, mine miner. Halbwachs, Nora og Kvinners kirkegang,”

IKM seminaret, June 2014


Latest seminar organized;

“Stavkirkene og forskingen,” funded by Riksantikvaredn, NTNU and Folkemuseet på Sverresborg, September 13-14, 2014.



Imagery and Ritual in the Liminal Zone. A Study of Texts and Architectural Sculpture from the Nidaros Province c. 1100-1300, Doctoral dissertation. Det teologiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet, Copenhagen 2012.


Architectural and Ritual Constructions. The Medieval Cathedral of Trondheim in a European Context. Ritus et Artes, Vol. 3 (Turnhout, Brepols 2007), eds.: Margrete Syrstad Andås, Øystein Ekroll, Andreas Haug and Nils Holger Petersen.


”Fra vugge til grav. Kirkebygget i middelaldermenneskets liv.” In Værnes kirke, ed. Morten Stige og Kjell Erik Petterson, forthcoming 2016.

”Prosesjoner i byrommet i middelalderens Norge.” In (GEN)KLANGE, Essays om kunst og kristendom tilegnet Nils Holger Petersen på 70-årsdagen. Publikationer fra Det Teologiske Fakultet 62, Kristoffer Garne and Lars Nørregaard (Eds.)((København: Københavns Universitet 2016), 47-55. 

“Hinn helgi æysteinn erkibiskup: Presteskapets egen helgen?” In Kristin Bjørlykke, Øystein Ekroll, Birgitta Syrstad Gran og Marianne Hermann (eds.): Eystein Erlendsson – Erkebiskop, politiker og kirkebygger (Trondheim, Nidaros domkirkes restaureringsarbeiders forlag 2012), 149-167.

“Relikviekapell og kongelig mausoleum?”, in Kristin Bjørlykke, Øystein Ekroll and Birgitta Syrstad Gran (eds.): Nidarosdomen – ny forskning på gammel kirke (Trondheim, Nidaros domkirkes restaureringsarbeiders forlag 2010), 296-318.

"The Octagon Doorway: A Question of Purity and Danger?" In Kristin Bliksrud Aavitsland and Margrethe Stang (Eds.): Ornament and Order. Essays on Viking and Northern Medieval Art for Signe Horn Fuglesang (Trondheim, Tapir 2008), 97-134.

“Introductory Note to Christopher Hohler’s “The Palm Sunday Procession and the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral”, in Margrete Syrstad Andås, Øystein Ekroll, Andreas Haug and Nils Holger Petersen (Eds.):  Architectural and Ritual Constructions. The Medieval Cathedral of Trondheim in a European Context. Ritus et Artes, Vol. 3 (Turnhout, Brepols 2007), 279-284.

“Art and Ritual in the Liminal Zone”, in Margrete Syrstad Andås, Øystein Ekroll, Andreas Haug and Nils Holger Petersen (Eds.):  Architectural and Ritual Constructions. The Medieval Cathedral of Trondheim in a European Context. Ritus et Artes, Vol. 3 (Turnhout, Brepols 2007), 47-126.

”Spor etter religiøs praksis på Tingvoll på 1200-tallet: Om innvielseskors, altre, portaler og alt detaljer kan fortelle ”, in Terje Spurkland og Morten Stige (Eds.): Tingvoll kyrkje. Gåta Gunnar gjorde, (Trondheim, Tapir 2006), 159-176.

“Hvor marginal er marginen. Om blottere i sentrum og konger i periferien”, in Kersti Markus (Ed.): Bilder i MarginenNordiska studier i medeltidens konst, (Tallin, Argo 2006), 139-158.

“A Royal Chapel for a Royal Relic?”, Senter for Middelalderstudiers Skrifter, (Trondheim, Tapir 2004), 173-19.

”Merker i stein: Om bygghytten ved Domkirken på erkebiskop Øysteins tid”, Trondhjemske samlinger (Trondheim 2003), 25-41.

”Smekre vannlilejkapiteler og rike chevroner: Spor av Yorkbygghyttens folk i Trondheims- og Bergensområdet 1160-80”, Årbok for Foreningen til norske fortidsminnesmerkers bevaring 2001, (Oslo, 2002), 75-89.

M.Phil. dissertation:

Skrudhuset ved Nidarosdomen. Form og funksjon. University of Oslo 2000, Vol. I-II, Unpublished M. Phil. Dissertation, Vol I: 1-200, Vol II, bilder: 1-50.

Scientific, academic and artistic work

A selection of recent journal publications, artistic productions, books, including book and report excerpts. See all publications in the database

Part of book/report

  • Andås, Margrete Syrstad. (2016) Kirkebygget i middelaldermenneskets liv. Værnes kirke - en kulturskatt i stein og tre.
  • Andås, Margrete Syrstad. (2016) Prosesjoner i byrommet i høymiddelalderens Norge. (Gen)klange.