Following the genes of Saint Olaf

"The Path" 2012, my walk from Trondheim to Copenhagen, started in Trondheim at the gravesite of Saint Olaf, "Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae", Norway's eternal King.

It felt appropriate not to do what thousands upon thousands of pilgrims had done for almost thousand years before us, walk to his old relics, but rather from them, on a spiritual search for the new.

In Copenhagen Jennifer was waiting and our meeting there became a beautiful renewal of our commitment to each other and our intertwined paths.

Little did I know that in Jennifer was also waiting, not Saint Olaf's old bones, but his own very much alive genes!!!

I have spent the last week digging in the old stories and paths of our ancestors and I am overjoyed and thrilled with what I have come up with. Not that I am surprised really, it feels totally appropriate, but it is a nice twist to the tale for sure.

Here it is:

                                       The kinship of

 Saint Olaf, King of Norway
Jennifer Ferguson

Saint Olaf, King of Norway, 993 - 1030
Dtr Wulfhild Olafsdotter, Herzogin von Sachsen, 1025-1070
Son Magnus Billung, Herzog von Sachsen, 1045-1105
Dtr Wulfhilda Billung, Prinzessin von Sachsen, 1075 - 1125
Dtr Judith, Prinzessin von Bayern 1103 - 1135
Son Friedrich I Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, 1122 - 1190
Son Otto von Hohenstaufen, Pfalzgraf in Burgund, 1170 - 1200
Str Beatrice II, comtesse de Bourgogne, 1191 -1231
Dtr Adelheid von Andechs, comtesse de Bourgogne
Dtr Hippolyte de Bourgogne, dame de Saint Vallier, 1254 -1283
Son Aymar V de Poiters, 1270 - 1340
Dtr Marguerite de Poiters - Valentinois
Dtr Marguerite de Beaumont, 1331 - 1373
Dtr Jeanne de Vendome, 1350 -
Son Bouchard de Mornay, seigneur de Saint Germain
Son Charles de Mornay, seigneur de Villiers
Son Jean de Mornay,  - 1499
Son Philippe de Mornay, 1483 -
Son Jacques de Mornay, Chevalier, Seigneur de Buhy, 1490 - 1559
Dtr Judith Anne de Mornay du Plessis, 1555 -
Son Charles du Plessis, 1600 - 1640
Son Jean Prieur du Plessis, 1638 - 1708, born in Poiters
Son Jean Louis du Plessis, 1691 - 1768, born in Stellenbosch, SA
Son Daniel du Plessis, 1732 -     , born in Cape Province, SA
Son Daniel Jacob du Plessis, 1750 - 1811, born in Paarl, SA
Dtr Marthina Magthild du Plessis, 1798 - 1868, born in Paarl, SA
Son David Joseph Wilcock,  1827 - 1905
Dtr Martina Magdel Naudé (Wilcocks), 1866 - 1965
Dtr Salome Fleishauer (Naudé), 1907 - 1995
Dtr Giesela Ferguson, 1933 - 2004

Dtr Jennifer Ferguson, 1961 -

There are of course a lot of exciting subplots hiding in this chart;

Olaf's wife Astrid Olofsdotter was Swedish, the daughter of Sweden's first Christian King, Olof Skötkonung. So this is also a chart of Jennifer's full circle back to Sweden, her maternal home.

Olaf's and Astrid's daughter Ulfhild (Wulfhild in German)  was married to Otto I, the duke of Sachsen and a few generations down the line we find the Roman Emperor Friedrich I, known as Barbarossa, Italian for "Redbeard". So there we have the genetic origins of Jennifer's red hair...

The line takes us to France and the Huguenots, or rather French nobility who later become Huguenots when the reformation starts to stir minds in Europe. "A huguenot family" written by the sister in-law of Jennifer's great grandmother Judith Anne de Mornay du Plessis, 11 generations ago is an exciting yet intimate biography of turbulent times. The whole book is readable at a click, and I can recommend it for those of you with a special interest, which should include all the thousands of South Africans who can trace their roots and name to the du Plessis estate.

The reformation "spread first among the nobles, and more especially among the women of their class" to quote the book's foreword. This is ascribed to the fact that the men were often out on war leaving the women as head of the households with the freedom to act and think for themselves, which is incidentally the same reason used to explain the independence of the Viking women 500 years earlier in Jennifer's line. But the driving force of the reformation was the ability to read and to draw your own conclusions from what you read. The Bible in French became a powerful agent in the hands of the literate classes, ..."as he read and re-read he noticed that purgatory and prayers to the saints were never mentioned". This led to minds questioning the practices of the Catholic Church and in the end to big global upheavals. On one such wave the du Plessis some decades later sailed to Cape Town in search for freedom from harassment and freedom of thought.

I cannot refrain from drawing a parallell to Jennifer's explanation of how her reading in her youth acted as the vehicle to start questioning the imbued apartheid mindset of state, school and family. When the stories of the Holocaust in the book from the library don't match with what you hear at school and home it's understandable that you become a protestant...

I have found more than one way that our family ties up with Olaf's. Another thread follows the van Zijls 10 generations back from South Africa to medieval Holland and ends up in Trondheim around the year 1000 with the Norwegian royals. And it does not end there. Once you're in these books you relate to just about every character in the early European History; William the Conqueror, Rollo, Harold Bluetoth, Saint Istvan King of Hungary, Saint Margaret Queen of Scotland, Charlemagne, and even King Coilus of Britain born AD 80. Haven't heard of him? Well it could be the one you have been singing about since you were a child: "Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he" Just like you could have sung about Saint Olaf when you sang "London bridge is falling down". In his youth Olaf was part of a raid on London where the bridge was torn down and the song could well be an account of that.

Uppsala mounds

The songs carry the stories long beyond memory. With the help of old Viking songs, myths and sagas found in "the Edda" I can trace Jen's lineage, her-story, still further, beyond what the historian call history, all the way to the kings resting in the old mounds of Uppsala and, according to the Edda even beyond that, all the way to the Gods.
But let's rest in the mounds of Uppsala for a while. Because that is where our two stories meet again, that's how far I, with the help of the Edda, have been able to take my own lineage. What a happy ending to an incredible story, uh?

And I would think that the sheer mathematical probability that the skeletons in the Uppsala mounds from the 5th century AD would hold genes common to both of us, given what we know of our genetical lines 10 centuries back, is quite substantial. The facts trump the fiction. Or is it the sagas that are true?

Come to think of a line from Breyten Breytenbach that goes something like this:
The only objective thing is a skeleton in the ground, and then you still haven't counted for the spirit...

I think I can say that my driving force behind these explorations through time has not primarily been a historical one - it's more due to a conviction that time is as elusive as it is illusory. In reality it does not exist. That leaves me, in relationship with the ancestors, very much with a traditional African point of view. The ancestors are here now. They don't hold on to the prescribed definitions of time, so they keep popping up in different ways where they were not supposed to be. Back to the future, forward to the past. We resort to hold on to the old time-line to keep things separate and "tidy". Keep on trusting our skeletons more than our spirits because it is safer that way.

But when time is given to the Spirit it becomes clear, understandable and beautiful. Things connect and fall in place in the most beautiful way.

Thanks my dearest Jennifer for sharing this wonder-ful time with me.

(To be continued in next blog; "Following the genes of slave Koddo")


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