The village Covarrubias in Northern Spain
The village Covarrubias on a beautiful autumn morning. A shepherd is crossing a stone bridge on his way out of town with his flock of sheep. On his way he passes a welcome sign in many languages, including Norwegian.
At the market place in front of the Arlanza hotel children are playing on their bikes while the adults sit relaxing with their coffee or tea. A peaceful idyll characterises the picturesque medieval village.
But inside the office of the town mayor Miguel Ortiz, with its view over the market place, there's plenty of activity. He's having a meeting with Covarrubias' jack of all trades Juan Jose Jorge Moneo, also known as 'Juancho', and Øyvind Fossan, 'El Presidente' in the Princess Kristina foundation.
And it is the legendary princess the three happy men are holding a meeting about. Kristina is about to become the midpoint of the little village and a cultural link between Norway and Spain.
And now both the Kristina foundation and the mayor want to build a St Olav's chapel in a lovely valley just outside Covarrubias. They have even advertised an architect's competition between two high schools, one Norwegian, one Spanish, for who will design the chapel.
In fact both the mayor and the jack of all trades were in Norway last summer under the auspices of the Kristina foundation and visited Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, as well as collecting inspiration for future Kristina celebrations from 'The Play about Holy Olav' at Stiklestad North of Trondheim.
Beautiful Kristina was the daughter of Håkon Håkonsson, one of Norway's mightiest kings, and in 1258, scarcely 24 years old, was married to a Spanish prince, far away from the shores of Norway. But not so far away all the same.
For in the late Middle–Ages Norway was a great sea–power, and our kings and chieftains travelled long distances with their retinues, by no means only to wage war. All the same, the destiny and the life of young Kristina were quite out of the ordinary. It is strange that her story was forgotten for centuries, until the historian P A Munch revived it 100 years ago. Since then two plays have been written about her journey to Spain and her marriage with Don Felipe, the brother of the great king Alfonso X, known as El Sabio, the wise.
Kristina's bridal journey
The story of Kristina's bridal journey is portrayed in Håkon Håkonsson's saga, written by Icelandic Sturla Tordsson. There it says that a Norwegian court delegation went to Spain in 1255, well equipped with gifts such as hunting hawks, fur skins and so on, and stayed there till the following year.
They should then have travelled home accompanied by Spanish noblemen, in order to ask King Håkon for Kristina's hand for one of Alfonso's brothers. Later accounts seem to suggest that the Spaniards came to Norway on their own initiative.
At any rate the Spanish envoys came to the King's seat at Tønsberg in 1256. They were led by King Alfonso's own notary, Sira Ferrant, who put forward the King's proposal. King Håkon consulted with the archbishop and the 'kingdom's wisest men'.
She got to choose her prince!
The king said yes to the Spanish envoys, but on one condition: Kristina should herself choose which of King Alfonso's brothers she preferred.
This was in itself as good as unheard of at this time – that a woman's will should decide whom she should marry, and even more so in the case of a royal marriage.
A large retinue sailed from Tønsberg in late summer 1257, in a newly built ship, with an individual cabin for the sea–sick Sira Ferrant. The retinue was led by Bishop Peder of Hamar, and the princess' court consisted of more than 100 people.
The journey went across the North Sea to England, over the channel to Normandy, then through France by horse. In Barcelona the colourful party was received by King Alfonso's father–in–law Jaime 1.
Right after the new year in 1258 they came to Valladolid, at that time the capital of Castille, and were well received by the Spanish king. Two days later Kristina could choose between his brothers, and the favoured one was the youngest, 27 year old Felipe. He was known as an enthusiastic rider, hunter and sports man. As a boy he had been selected as abbot for the church in the historic village Covarrubias – but had never been attracted to an ecclesiastical calling.
Her short happiness
But after just four years of life together with the three years older Don Felipe, Kristina dies, 28 years old and childless in Seville. Unhappy? That is what has been claimed. The pale and delicate Norwegian beauty died of melancholy because she never felt at home under foreign skies, is what has been said.
The marriage with the Spanish prince was unhappy – after all they had no children, others have claimed. But Don Felipe died himself, still childless after a new marriage many years later. Everything suggests that Kristina from Norway was both happy and glad during those few years of marriage with her prince in the sunshine of Andalusia, and that instead it was a serious illness that cost her her life.