Irish princess and nun. Her story is legendary, like that of Ursula. She is said to have embarked from Ireland with several companions in search of a haven to live consecrated lives in exile for Christ. They reached an uninhabited island called Selje (off the west coast of Norway, having travelled via Scotland). They settled into living the devout life, dwelling in caves and subsisting on fish. The neighbouring Jarl Haakon heard of their arrival and came to investigate: they fled to the caves and prayed to rest in God whenever and wherever they should die. Masses of rock crashed down and blocked all entrances to the caves. Much later the caves were explored and Sunniva's incorrupt body was discovered.
In 995 Olaf Tryggyason is said to have built a chapel in her honour. In 1170 her relics were moved to Bergen; Selje's church was given to Benedictine monks who dedicated it to St Alban. Five churches (some ruinous) still survive on this island. Feast: 7 July.
Latin Legend (11th century) in G. Storm, Monumenta Historiae Norvegiae, pp. 147–52;S. Undset, Saga of Saints (1934), pp. 68–86;B.T.A., iii. 42.