Onarheim was a chieftain’s seat in prehistory. The farm was a pivotal point and a meeting place in the west side of Norway, widely known as a cult place and a court location. Some historians have thought that Onarheim was the oldest court location for Gulatinget , before Håkon the good, according to history, let it be moved to Gulen in the middle of 900.
Since the Middle Ages Onarheimsgildet was an institution that took care of Onarheim’s traditional function as religious, social and cultural centre in West Norway. The local origins for the Christian Onarheimsgildet were probably the heathen drinking fraternity, associated with offerings to the heathen gods. As a Christian gathering it probably originated in the 1100s, linked to the holy king Olav Haraldsson.
Onarheimsgildet gathered “Gilde brethren” for celebration on 29 July (Olsok) from the old Hordaland. The celebration could last for an entire week around 29 July. It was an important social event for the participants, but religious ceremonies were an important part of it. For the rest of the year the “Gilde brethren” were obliged to help if a “brother” was injured by conflagration or if his cattle caught illness. In this respect Gilde was regulated by its own laws. We know of three Gilde laws from the Middle Ages in this country. At least one of them is from Onarheimsgildet.
The economic crisis in the late Middle Ages must have weakened the Gilde institution greatly, and the Reformation led to its definite end. Some time before 1554 the bishop Geble Pederson had brought to Bergen “a Gildestue from the Country”, for accommodation for the head of the Latin School. That may have been the Gilde house at Onarheim.
The old Onarheim church had a central place in the festivities and ceremonies linked with Onarheimsgildet in the Middle Ages. It was probably built in the second half of the 1100s and needed to accommodate people from large parts of the west of Norway when the “Gilde brethren” met.
After the conclusion of Onarheimsgildet in the middle of 1500, the church started its decay. In 1820 the old stone church was pulled down. Stone from the medieval church was used in the new church, which stood until 1894, when the present church was consecrated.
- Espeland, A. (1917) Onarheim i Søndhordland: ting, gilde, gudshus og ættehistorie. I: Sunnhordland Årbok. Stord, Sunnhordland museum, s. 42-55.
- Næss, A. (1915) Om de gamle gilder i Søndhordland: St. Olavs gilde paa Onarheim i Tysnes. I: Sunnhordland Årbok. Stord, Sunnhordland museum, s. 5-31