Norwegian Stave Churches

Norwegian Stave Churches

Though I'm not typically drawn to religious edifices, the Norwegian stave churches hold a unique appeal for me. Their distinct aesthetic and ingenious construction methods are simply mesmerizing. Even more entrancing is the fragrance of aged timber that permeates the air, especially noticeable during the warmth of summer, infusing the surroundings with an aura of the past. An odd element of their history that adds an unusual twist to their allure is the notorious burning of several of these structures by a black metal musician. This strange infamy, rather than detracting from their charm, enhances the mystique surrounding these remarkable architectural treasures. If you are looking for a "Game of Thrones" feeling? - Visit one of this churches 🙂

The Hopperstad Stave Church

Unveiling the Timeless Beauty of Medieval Wooden Architecture!

A testament to Europe's medieval era, stave churches are among the most distinct representations of period-specific wooden craftsmanship.

Historically, upwards of a thousand of these architectural gems dotted the Norwegian landscape during the medieval period. Of those, 28 significant structures remain today. One particularly noteworthy example is the Urnes Stave Church, which has garnered UNESCO World Heritage Site status. These unique edifices, known as 'stave churches' due to their construction using wooden posts or 'staves' in Norwegian, were primarily erected between 1150 and 1350. This construction style was prevalent in northwest Europe during this era. Norway had a strong tradition of using wood for both aesthetic and structural purposes, leading to the evolution of novel woodworking methods, with stave churches being a splendid example of this craftsmanship. The interior design of these churches presents a captivating mix of Christian iconography interspersed with pagan Viking symbolism.

However, these architectural marvels suffered heavy losses during the 14th-century Plague and subsequent Reformation, resulting in the disappearance of many stave churches. By the mid-17th century, the count had dropped to around 270, and the following hundred years witnessed the loss of an additional 100 structures. Today, 28 of these remarkable buildings survive, with a concentration in the region of Fjord Norway.

The Urnes Stave Church, dating back to approximately 1130 and situated in Luster on the Sognefjord, is Norway's oldest. Once owned by a prosperous family, this beautifully adorned structure has earned UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition.

Another standout, the Borgund Stave Church, was constructed around 1180 in Lærdal, near the Sognefjord. As the country's most frequented, best-conserved, and most-photographed stave church, it boasts an array of runic inscriptions on its walls.

Some stave churches in Norway:

  1. Urnes Stave Church, Luster, Sogn og Fjordane
  2. Borgund Stave Church, Lærdal, Sogn og Fjordane
  3. Heddal Stave Church, Notodden, Telemark
  4. Hopperstad Stave Church, Vik, Sogn og Fjordane
  5. Gol Stave Church, Gol, Buskerud (moved to Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)
  6. Lom Stave Church, Lom, Oppland
  7. Røldal Stave Church, Røldal, Hordaland
  8. Fantoft Stave Church, Bergen, Hordaland (reconstructed after it was burned down)
  9. Kaupanger Stave Church, Sogndal, Sogn og Fjordane
  10. Eidsborg Stave Church, Tokke, Telemark

The Intricate Construction of Norway's Stave Churches

The term "stave church" is derived from the building's structural framework, which primarily consists of vertical wooden posts known as "staves." Here is a general overview of their construction process:

1. Foundation and Framework: The first step in constructing a stave church was to establish a strong foundation. Builders often used stone for this purpose, which helped protect the wooden structure from ground moisture. The staves, from which the churches derive their name, were placed on this foundation. These load-bearing posts were joined together with horizontal beams, creating the church's primary structure.

2. Walls and Partitions: Walls were built using vertical wooden planks, placed between the horizontal beams of the stave framework. Planks could be positioned in different ways to create walls, partitions, and galleries, allowing for a variety of architectural designs, including the construction of naves and chancels.

3. Roof Construction: The roof was usually steeply pitched to withstand the weight of snow in winter, a practical consideration given Norway's climate. The roof framework would be covered with wooden shingles, often overlapping, creating a waterproof barrier. Some stave churches also feature an additional outer roof or gallery called a 'sval,' which further protected the structure from weather.

4. Art and Decoration: Artistic and symbolic elements were integral parts of the stave churches' design. Craftsmen often carved intricate designs directly into the wood, depicting scenes from Christian and Norse mythology. The portals, in particular, were frequently adorned with intricate carvings. Inside the church, the walls could be adorned with colorful murals, while the pulpit and altarpiece were often heavily ornamented.

5. Preserving the Wood: Given the wooden nature of these structures, preservation was a key aspect of their construction. The wood used was often 'heartwood' from old, slow-growing trees, which is more resistant to rot. Techniques like tar-pitching were used to waterproof and protect the wood. Some believe that the dark color of many stave churches may be due to this preservation process.

Each stave church is unique, reflecting the available resources, prevailing architectural styles, and local traditions of the time when it was built. Despite their commonalities, these buildings represent a broad spectrum of design and technique, contributing to their historical and cultural significance.

A Dark Chapter in Norway's Black Metal History

In the realm of Norwegian black metal, a genre known for its intense sound and controversial themes, one figure has earned particular notoriety: Varg Vikernes, or as some know him, Count Grishnackh of the one-man band, Burzum.

In the early 1990s, an unsettling wave of anti-Christian sentiment was sweeping through the black metal scene. During this tense era, a series of devastating events shocked the nation. Several of Norway's treasured stave churches, incredible wooden structures dating back to the medieval period, fell victim to arson attacks. These churches, with their unique construction and historical significance, were irreplaceable cultural landmarks. Among those lost was the Fantoft Stave Church, an architectural marvel originally erected in the 12th century.

At the heart of these destructive acts was Varg Vikernes. The musician was convicted for his role in these fires, his actions casting a long, dark shadow over the black metal community in Norway. This distressing chapter in the country's music history did not just cause national shock and sadness, but it also amplified the controversial reputation of the Norwegian black metal scene.

This somber episode reminds us to value and protect our cultural heritage, even as we push the boundaries of artistic expression.

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