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Locality and Myth: the Resacralization of Selja and the Cult of St. Sunniva

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The article demonstrates the merging of contemporary processes of resacralization, retraditionalization, and local identity construction embodied in one particular example, the island of Selja on the west coast of Norway. In Roman-Catholic times, Selja was a major pilgrimage site, famous for its legend of St. Sunniva, an Irish princess who fled from her country and took refuge on the island where she suffered a martyr death. The national conversion to Lutheranism in the 16th century put an end to the official Sunniva cult. In our time, however, the legend has been revived and is celebrated for various purposes by the local Lutheran state church, the tourist business, and individuals who are attracted to the symbolic complex of Selja-Sunniva for spiritual reasons. The article argues that the revival of the legend converts the old site with its ruins and landscape features into a narrative space, re-establishing a sanctuary with a variety of symbolic references. Selja meets the requirements of modern seekers and pilgrims, while its history and myth are excellently fitted to serve local identity construction.


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