Nobel prize winner Sigrid Undset, lay dominican

Sigrid Undset was conceived in Italy, born in Kalundborg 20 May 1882 and grew up in Kristiania (Oslo) as the eldest of three sisters. Her mother was Danish, her father a Norwegian archeologist who died when she was 11.

She was a unusually tall woman, and her big grey eyes had a strange look – they seemed to gaze as much inward as outward, and missed nothing.

In 1909, at the age of 27, she became a full-time author and was able to quit her work after 11 years as an office clerk. In the following years, she travelled to Berlin, fell in love with the Mediaeval town of Bamberg, on to Rome, Paris, Copenhagen. In 1912, she married Anders Svarstad, a Norwegian painter 13 years her senior, and they spent five happy months together in London. Her copy of Hilaire Belloc’s “The path to Rome” was possibly bought during this time. Not that she would yet give serious thought to conversion, as her husband had divorced another woman to marry her. Rome again, and then returning til Norway with her firstborn in the spring.

In the following years, Sigrid Undset threw herself into public debate about feminism and the modern woman, a subject also very much a theme of her novels. So, on 28 March 1914, she delivered her cultural manifesto from the rostrum of the Students’ Society in Trondhjem, her father’s native city. The 4th Commandment, she says, is really about the duty of parents to live their lives so that their children may honour their father and mother. She is still not a Christian at this stage: she considers God to be created in Man’s image. But by 1919, the moral world view of her speeches and essays was recognisably Catholic. She moved alone to Lillehammer with her children and step-children, and gave birth to her youngest son, christened Hans Benedict Hugh – “Hugh” after the Catholic priest and author Robert Hugh Benson. She developed a big garden and kept hundreds of flowerpots in the house – she was passionate about flowers.

During the three years 1920-22, she published the trilogy “Kristin Lavransdatter”, set in 14th Century Norway. With children and guests and lots of work in the house all the time, she had to write late at night, sustained by black coffee and cigarettes. It is a deeply Catholic work, and many Norwegians have found their way to the Catholic Church after reading these novels. In 1923, she started receiving instruction from a Catholic priest, Rev. Karl Kjelstrup (1874-1946) – a fervent Dominican tertiary. Sigrid Undset was received into the Catholic Church on the Feast of All Saints 1 November 1924 – with special permission of the bishop, as she was not yet legally divorced.

Articles and debates in defense of the Catholic Church was taking up a lot of her time. She had armed herself with a German edition of Martin Luther’s collected works in 67 volumes, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and four shelves filled with books by Benson, Belloc and Chesterton. She also participated in – and contributed to – the fundraising for a Dominican church in Oslo, consecrated 2 October 1927, seven years after the first two friars arrived from France to establish a convent.

A local chapter of the Secular Third Order of Penance (T.O.P.) of St. Dominic was established here in November 1926. Sigrid Undset was received into the Order on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 March 1927, taking the name “Olave” as her name in the Order. Profession followed a year later, 7 March 1928. Her daily routine as a lay Dominican tertiary included praying the Little Office of Our Lady, and the Rosary.

In May 1928, the first two Dominican sisters arrived from France to establish a convent, named after St. Catherine of Siena, almost next door to the friars. Sigrid Undset was a great supporter of the sisters from the start, and the mother prioress became a close friend.

At home in Lillehammer, 13 March 1928, Sigrid Undset received a telephone call, informing her that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She gave away all the prize money – some to the Norwegian Authors’ Union, some to a fund to help Catholic parents send their children to a Catholic boarding school, but most of it to a fund to make it possible for parents to keep mentally disabled children at home – children like her own daughter “Mosse”. The Norwegian Authors’ Union arranged a big celebration in her honour, and presented her with a beautiful laurel wreath. Early next morning, she went to St. Dominikus and laid the wreath on the altar of Our Lady.

Her next novel “Gymnadenia” (1929) and the sequel “The Burning Bush” (1930) is a Catholic conversion story, where the protagonist is a man with many similarities with Sigrid Undset herself, recounting many of her own experiences and expressing her thoughts.

Sigrid Undset’s parish church was in another city, St. Torfinn’s in Hamar. Twice a month, a priest (would come from Hamar to her house “Bjerkebæk” in Lillehammer, to stay in the guest house and celebrate Mass in the living-room with a big fireplace in the corner. The few Catholics in the area would then be invited for Mass and breakfast afterwards. She showed outrageous generosity to her family and friends, to the Church and to the Order, to her own parish and to Catholic families who struggled to make ends meet.

Sigrid Undset corresponded with friends around Europe, and was aware of worrying developments in Europe. She had read Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, and knew his ideology went against everything she believed in. Her outspokenness led to her works being banned in Germany since 1936.

When German troops attacked Norway on 9 April 1940, she fled to Sweden – while her eldest son fell in battle. From Sweden she went to the United States, where she had been planning to go anyway. She settled in Brooklyn Heights, New York and set to work as  “information soldier” for Norway – and against the Third Reich. She was a leading member of the “Emergency Committee to save the Jews” and appealed to Roosevelt and Churchill to save as many Jews as possible – aware that they were doomed as long as Hitler would rule. Catholic connections she made in the US included don Luigi Sturzo and Dorothy Day, whom she admired.

Sigrid Undset returned to Norway in 1945, exhausted and in ill health. Her last work, written while staying with the Dominican sisters in Oslo, would be a biography of St. Catherine of Siena, published posthumously. She died in hospital in Lillehammer 10 June 1949, and was buried at Mesnali between her daughter Mosse and son Anders.

Nobel prize winner Sigrid Undset, lay dominicanhttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Sigrid-Undset.jpghttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Sigrid-Undset-150x150.jpgJan Frederik SolemEnglishHistorySlider,
Sigrid Undset was conceived in Italy, born in Kalundborg 20 May 1882 and grew up in Kristiania (Oslo) as the eldest of three sisters. Her mother was Danish, her father a Norwegian archeologist who died when she was 11. She was a unusually tall woman, and her big grey eyes...
Sigrid Undset was conceived in Italy, born in Kalundborg 20 May 1882 and grew up in Kristiania (Oslo) as the eldest of three sisters. Her mother was Danish, her father a Norwegian archeologist who died when she was 11. She was a unusually tall woman, and her big grey eyes had a strange look - they seemed to gaze as much inward as outward, and missed nothing. In 1909, at the age of 27, she became a full-time author and was able to quit her work after 11 years as an office clerk. In the following years, she travelled to Berlin, fell in love with the Mediaeval town of Bamberg, on to Rome, Paris, Copenhagen. In 1912, she married Anders Svarstad, a Norwegian painter 13 years her senior, and they spent five happy months together in London. Her copy of Hilaire Belloc’s “The path to Rome” was possibly bought during this time. Not that she would yet give serious thought to conversion, as her husband had divorced another woman to marry her. Rome again, and then returning til Norway with her firstborn in the spring. In the following years, Sigrid Undset threw herself into public debate about feminism and the modern woman, a subject also very much a theme of her novels. So, on 28 March 1914, she delivered her cultural manifesto from the rostrum of the Students’ Society in Trondhjem, her father’s native city. The 4th Commandment, she says, is really about the <em>duty of parents</em> to live their lives so that their children <em>may</em> honour their father and mother. She is still not a Christian at this stage: she considers God to be created in Man’s image. But by 1919, the moral world view of her speeches and essays was recognisably Catholic. She moved alone to Lillehammer with her children and step-children, and gave birth to her youngest son, christened Hans Benedict Hugh - “Hugh” after the Catholic priest and author Robert Hugh Benson. She developed a big garden and kept hundreds of flowerpots in the house - she was passionate about flowers. During the three years 1920-22, she published the trilogy “Kristin Lavransdatter”, set in 14th Century Norway. With children and guests and lots of work in the house all the time, she had to write late at night, sustained by black coffee and cigarettes. It is a deeply Catholic work, and many Norwegians have found their way to the Catholic Church after reading these novels. In 1923, she started receiving instruction from a Catholic priest, Rev. Karl Kjelstrup (1874-1946) - a fervent Dominican tertiary. Sigrid Undset was received into the Catholic Church on the Feast of All Saints 1 November 1924 - with special permission of the bishop, as she was not yet legally divorced. Articles and debates in defense of the Catholic Church was taking up a lot of her time. She had armed herself with a German edition of Martin Luther’s collected works in 67 volumes, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and four shelves filled with books by Benson, Belloc and Chesterton. She also participated in - and contributed to - the fundraising for a Dominican church in Oslo, consecrated 2 October 1927, seven years after the first two friars arrived from France to establish a convent. A local chapter of the Secular Third Order of Penance (T.O.P.) of St. Dominic was established here in November 1926. Sigrid Undset was received into the Order on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 March 1927, taking the name “Olave” as her name in the Order. Profession followed a year later, 7 March 1928. Her daily routine as a lay Dominican tertiary included praying the Little Office of Our Lady, and the Rosary. In May 1928, the first two Dominican sisters arrived from France to establish a convent, named after St. Catherine of Siena, almost next door to the friars. Sigrid Undset was a great supporter of the sisters from the start, and the mother prioress became a close friend. At home in Lillehammer, 13 March 1928, Sigrid Undset received a telephone call, informing her that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She gave away all the prize money - some to the Norwegian Authors’ Union, some to a fund to help Catholic parents send their children to a Catholic boarding school, but most of it to a fund to make it possible for parents to keep mentally disabled children at home - children like her own daughter “Mosse”. The Norwegian Authors’ Union arranged a big celebration in her honour, and presented her with a beautiful laurel wreath. Early next morning, she went to St. Dominikus and laid the wreath on the altar of Our Lady. Her next novel “Gymnadenia” (1929) and the sequel “The Burning Bush” (1930) is a Catholic conversion story, where the protagonist is a man with many similarities with Sigrid Undset herself, recounting many of her own experiences and expressing her thoughts. Sigrid Undset’s parish church was in another city, St. Torfinn’s in Hamar. Twice a month, a priest (would come from Hamar to her house “Bjerkebæk” in Lillehammer, to stay in the guest house and celebrate Mass in the living-room with a big fireplace in the corner. The few Catholics in the area would then be invited for Mass and breakfast afterwards. She showed outrageous generosity to her family and friends, to the Church and to the Order, to her own parish and to Catholic families who struggled to make ends meet. Sigrid Undset corresponded with friends around Europe, and was aware of worrying developments in Europe. She had read Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, and knew his ideology went against everything she believed in. Her outspokenness led to her works being banned in Germany since 1936. When German troops attacked Norway on 9 April 1940, she fled to Sweden - while her eldest son fell in battle. From Sweden she went to the United States, where she had been planning to go anyway. She settled in Brooklyn Heights, New York and set to work as  “information soldier” for Norway - and against the Third Reich. She was a leading member of the “Emergency Committee to save the Jews” and appealed to Roosevelt and Churchill to save as many Jews as possible - aware that they were doomed as long as Hitler would rule. Catholic connections she made in the US included don Luigi Sturzo and Dorothy Day, whom she admired. Sigrid Undset returned to Norway in 1945, exhausted and in ill health. Her last work, written while staying with the Dominican sisters in Oslo, would be a biography of St. Catherine of Siena, published posthumously. She died in hospital in Lillehammer 10 June 1949, and was buried at Mesnali between her daughter Mosse and son Anders.

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