The Ruins of St. Clement’s Church (Clemenskirken), Oslo

The Ruins of St. Clement's Church in Gamle Oslo

photography by: Omri Westmark

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For centuries, the triangular patch of land between Saxegaardsgata and Kanslergata streets in Oslo was nothing but an unassuming lawn, ridden with weeds. It wasn’t until the early 1920’s, when a series of excavation works by a team of local archeologists uncovered the ruins of St. Clement's Church, believed to be one of the oldest churches across the Norwegian capital.

Whoever passes along the small grassy patch of land between the numerous railway tracks in Gamle Oslo, might mistake the rubble of stones at its center with construction waste. Nonetheless, in contrary to one’s initial assumptions, this unpretentious site is all that remains today of Oslo’s presumably oldest church.


Constructed somewhere around the 12th century, St. Clement’s Church, or Clemenskirken as it is locally known, was as its name suggests dedicated to Clement of Rome, among the first popes. Legend has it that Pope Clement I became a martyr after he was executed by the Romans who tied an anchor around his neck before throwing him to his gruesome death in the abyss of the sea.


The stone church, whose ruins visitors can see today, was predated by at least one wooden church built a century prior. Long before any of the churches occupied the site, it was used as burial grounds, where according to archeologists, at least 7 generations of people were interred circa 1000 AD.


Featuring a double nave which was separated by three columns, St. Clement’s Church is considered a rarity due to its uncommon layout. With almost no similar churches anywhere in Europe, some experts speculate that Clemenskirken was inspired by Eastern-style architecture, especially given the cultural exchange between Norway and at the east at that time.


Following the Reformation which took place in Norway around the 16th century, the church was abandoned and subsequently fell into an irreversible state of disrepair. It didn’t take long before the decrepit building was ultimately demolished, and then buried under a thick layer of soil as time went by. It wasn’t until 1921, when architect and archeologist Gerhard Fischer unearthed the missing church, providing an authentic glimpse of the city’s early past.


For more than 70 years, the historic site was completely obscured by the Loenga bru Bridge which was part of the E-18 highway. By 1995, when the Ekeberg tunnel was inaugurated, the bridge was rendered obsolete. The demolition of Loenga bru that took place at the same year finally paved the way to the transformation of the then neglected wasteland into a green park, where the remains of Clemenskirken serve as a vestige of Oslo’s bygone era.