Olaf II Haraldsson (995 – 29 July 1030), later known as St. Olaf (and traditionally as St. Olav), was King of Norway from 1015 to 1028. He was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae (English: Eternal/Perpetual King of Norway) and canonised in Nidaros (Trondheim) by Bishop Grimkell, one year after his death in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. His remains were enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral, built over his burial site.
Olaf's local canonisation was in 1164 confirmed by Pope Alexander III, making him a universally recognised saint of the Roman Catholic Church, and a commemorated historical figure among some members of the Anglican Communion.He is also a canonised saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church (feast day celebrated July 29 (translation August 3)) and one of the last famous Western saints before the Great Schism. The exact position of Saint Olaf's grave in Nidaros has been unknown since 1568, due to the Lutheran iconoclasm in 1536–37. Saint Olaf is symbolised by the axe in Norway's coat of arms, and the Olsok (29 July) is still his day of celebration. Many Christian institutions with Scandinavian links and Norway's Order of St. Olav, are named after him.
Modern historians generally agree that Olaf was inclined to violence and brutality, and they accuse earlier scholars of neglecting this side of Olaf's character. Especially during the period of Romantic Nationalism, Olaf was a symbol of national independence and pride, presented to suit contemporary attitudes.
Olaf II's Old Norse name is Ólafr Haraldsson. During his lifetime he was known as Olaf 'the fat' or 'the stout' or simply as Olaf 'the big' (Ólafr digri; Modern Norwegian Olaf digre).In Norway today, he is commonly referred to as Olav den hellige (Bokmål; Olaf the Holy) or Heilage-Olav (Nynorsk; the Holy Olaf) in honour of his sainthood.
Olaf Haraldsson had the given name Óláfr in Old Norse. (Etymology: Anu – "forefather", Leifr – "heir".) Olav is the modern equivalent in Norwegian, formerly often spelt Olaf. His name in Icelandic is Ólafur, in Faroese Ólavur, in Danish Oluf, in Swedish Olof. Olave was the traditional spelling in England, preserved in the name of medieval churches dedicated to him. Other names, such as Oláfr hinn helgi, Olavus rex, and Olaf are used interchangeably (see the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson). He is sometimes referred to as Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae (English: Norway's Eternal King), a designation which goes back to the thirteenth century. The term Ola Nordmann as epithet of the archetypal Norwegian may originate in this tradition, as Olav was for centuries the most common male name in Norway.
Olaf was born in Ringerike. His mother was Åsta Gudbrandsdatter, and his father was Harald Grenske, great-great-grandchild of Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway. Harald Grenske died when Åsta Gudbrandsdatter was pregnant with Olaf. She later married Sigurd Syr, with whom she had other children including Harald Hardrada, who would reign as a future king of Norway.
There are many texts giving information concerning Olaf Haraldsson. The oldest source that we have is the Glælognskviða or "Sea-Calm Poem", composed by Þórarinn loftunga, an Icelander. It praises Olaf and mentions some of the famous miracles attributed to him. Olaf is also mentioned in the Norwegian synoptic histories. These include the Ágrip af Nóregskonungasögum (c. 1190), the Historia Norwegiae (c. 1160-1175) and a Latin text, Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium by Theodoric the Monk (c. 1177-1188).
Icelanders also wrote extensively about Olaf and we also have several Icelandic sagas about him. These include: Fagrskinna (c. 1220) and Morkinskinna (c. 1225-1235). The famous Heimskringla (c. 1225), written by Snorri Sturluson, largely bases its account of Olaf on the earlier Fagrskinna. We also have the important Oldest Saga of St. Olaf (c. 1200), which is important to scholars for its constant use of skaldic verses, many of which are attributed to Olaf himself.
Finally, there are many hagiographic sources describing St. Olaf, but these focus mostly on miracles attributed to him and cannot be used to accurately recreate his life. A notable one is The Passion and the Miracles of the Blessed Olafr.