Some of the most stunning churches in the world are also some of the simplest. Stave churches are considered to be among the most important examples of wooden Medieval architecture in Europe. One of the most recognized examples of Norwegian history and culture is the stave church (“stavkirke”).
In the Middle Ages, there were probably more than 1,000 Norwegian stave churches. Due to the Black Death and the reformation, many stave churches disappeared. In 1851 a new law in Norway stated that rural churches must have seating for at least three-tenths of the parishioners, which also led to the fact that many did not survive.
Today, only 28 remain, including Urnes stave church in Luster in the Sognefjord area , which is the oldest of the Norwegian Stave Churches (from around 1130) and included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
In Norway there was a tradition for using wood in artwork as well as in constructions, using the same woodworking prowess that made the Vikings such adept shipbuilders, and this lead to the development of a unique technique that the Norwegian stave churches are a perfect example of. The construction is made out of poles (“staver” in Norwegian), hence the name.
These medieval churches were notable for mixing Christian iconography and pagan designs like dragons and animals, giving them a distinctive look found nowhere else in the world.
Traditional Norwegian stave churches were often built using nothing more than expertly crafted joints and joins, with no nails or glue. Some of them have survived for as many as 800 years. Unique to Norway, they are medieval yet elegant symbols of Christianity’s initial foothold into a country whose Viking era and ancient gods were a recent memory.
Most of the remaining stave churches in Norway were built between 1150 and 1350. The largest of the original stave churches is the Heddal Church. Borgund stave church in Lærdal (around 1180), also in the Sognefjord area, is the most visited and most photographed church.
Even in the United States there are stave churches! Between 1968 and 1969 a replica of the Borgund stave church was built in Rapid City, South Dakota. More recently, a replica of the Hopperstad stave church (Vik, Norway) was built in Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Find the Norwegian stave churches here.
Experience the Norwegian Stave Churches, written by Tor Kjolberg
If you want to experience Borgund stave church in Luster, you might also want to read:
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