For decades now I’ve promised my readers a post about Stave Churches and here it is: The same weekend that we visited the Ancient Grinding Mills at Leine, we also went to see some Stave Churches. Since they are all in the proximity, we figured: this has already turned out to be an “old Norwegian culture weekend, why not go for an overdose?” So, I hereby present the first presentation of Norwegian Stave Churches (if it’s too much to read for you, just enjoy the pictures):
Recently I wrote about The Ancient Grinding Mills at Leine, which is not far away from Høre Stave Church (approximately 15 minutes drive) and, like I wrote in that post:
“Leinesanden (The Leine Sand/ Leine Beach) is said to have been the place where «St. Olaf» (Olaf II Haraldsson, Olav Den Hellige) tried to violently force christianity upon the inhabitants of Vang (Vang Commune). When «St. Olaf» forced the new faith upon the people of Norway, he & his fellow christian men mutilated or murdered those who refused to accept the new god, and in some cases they also stole people’s property, so that they could fully comprehend the greatness of Jesus Christ (later on Christianity also stole pre-christian celebrations such as christmas & easter).”
After the spread of christianity, Vikings started erecting stave churches based on the techniques they already knew from boat construction and home building, a technique that combines art with wood work. The wood carvings is excellent examples of Viking art, which flourished in Scandinavia from about 800 to 1050.
Viking design emphasized intertwining, sinuous shapes, usually detailing animals and often including people. The Vikings often incorporated legend into their art. The stave churches are a particularly valuable part of the Norwegian architectural heritage, and are considered to be of national and global importance. There are several types of stave churches but the common element to all of them is that they have corner-posts (“staves”) and a skeleton or framework of timber with wall planks standing on sills. These walls are known as stave walls, hence the name stave church.
There is reason to believe that many stave churches are built on the old Norse holy places or hoof. The old belief system “Åsatroen” had no place of worship. The exercise of the religion took place outdoors in sacred groves, woe, or hoof. “The Hoof” was often a large living room, or a hall owned by the richest farmer in the village.
Originally, in the christian congregations, it was only the priest who could read, and the congregation stood in semi-darkness and listened. Later, after the Reformation in 1537, they built pulpit and benches in most of the stave churches so people could sit. The long sermon made this necessary and windows were made, so people could follow the Bible and hymn book. In recent times there has been effort to reconstruct the churches back to the original.
In many ways the stave churches received their fatal blow in 1851 when it was adopted a law which commanded that churches should have seating for 30% of those parish to the church. It was often difficult to expand the old stave churches, and besides, they were old, dark and cold. Therefore the old churches were torn and a new larger church was built. This is the background of the demolishing of stave churches in the period 1851-1890
During the Middle Ages there was probably over 1000 stave churches in Norway (some believe it may have been as many as up to 2000 churches), but most of them disappeared in the period 1350-1650, probably due to the Black Death and the Reformation. In 1650 there were about 270 stave churches left, and in the next century 136 of these were lost. Today there are only 28 stave churches in Norway. Up untill 1992 Norway had 29 Stave Churches, but then an insignificant, pitiful person decided to burn down Fantoft Stave Church and 3-4 other churches, plus murder a guy, in order to promote his one-man band.
For his actions the Norwegian Penal System kept him imprisoned for 16 years (of course with leave, so that he could have time to visit family and friends), with great opportunities to practice his synthesizer skills, work on his public image and release some albums while he was doing time. This pathetic persons coward actions also inspired another loser in Melbourne to burn down a 108 years old church.
As a result of this, all the Stave Churches in Norway are now under constant video-surveillance.
HØRE STAVE CHURCH
Høre Stave Church is located in Ryfoss, Valdres, Oppland. It’s a pillar church with four corner poles, choir, apses and gallery. It was built about 1180 and remodeled around 1820. Høre Stave Church is rich in dragon and lion wood carvings from the Middle Ages, and among these are two beautiful portals. What used to be the ridge turret, is today the entrance of the graveyard. This is the second church built upon the present site.
Underneath this church have been found the remnants of a church dated to approximately 1100. Tombs have also been found under the church, including those of children. Additionally, the remains of fetuses have been found, along with evidence of a ceremonial burial as well. It is likely that the well-known Duke of Skule, from the sagas, was married in Høre stave church in the 1200s.
On a runic inscription inscribed upon the pulpit, you can read the following:
This summer when the brothers Elling and Audun cut the trees for this church, Erling Jarl was killed in the battle of Nidaros.
(modern Norwegian translation: “Den sommeren da brødrene Elling og Audun lot hogge (trær) til denne kirke, da falt Erling Jarl i Nidaros”. Or, in the original language:
Þá, um þat sumar [létu] þeir brœðr Erlingr ok Auðun hôggva till kirkju þessar, er Erlingr ja[rl fe]ll í Niðarósi
Erling Jarl died in battle at Nidaros in 1179 and the runic inscription has been used to determine the age of Høre Stave Church (in literature sometimes referred to as Hurum Stave Church, but no one uses this name).
The story behind the runic inscriptions found in the pulpit is this: According to legend, King Sverre passed through Valdres in 1177 on the run from Magnus Erlingsson. Elling, the Kvie Lendmann (feudatory), had joined King Sverre in his fight against King Magnus and his father the Earl Erling Skakke. When Erling fell in the battle at Kalvskinnet in Nidaros (Trondheim), Elling and his brother Audun decided to build Høre Stave Church.
Gyda from Kvie, the church`s neighbouring farm, was the daughter of the petty king Eirik of Hordaland. She was the one who prompted Harald Hårfagre to unite Norway into one kingdom towards the end of the 800s. Brought up at Kvie, a farm in Valdres, she made Harald promise not to cut his hair or shave until he had united the country. Initially, she turned down the king`s proposal of marriage, but when he had done what she asked, Gyda married King Harald.
There are also several other runic inscriptions, and items with runic inscriptions in the church. In a tomb archeologists have found coins dating back to the time of Magnus (known as Magnus the Good or the Noble – the King of Norway from 1035 to 1047 and the King of Denmark from 1042 to 1047.) and in the area coins from King Valdemar (1154-1182) and King Sverre’s (1177-1202) era.
In the church’s attic, there are about 20 elements that was re-used during the renovation in the 1800s. On the upper part of the staves you can see wood carvings of the old norse gods. To me this is very interesting and it shows that although the Norwegians were forced to worship the new god from the Middle East, they secretly continued to pray to their old Norse Gods. Unfortunately this part of the church is not accessible for the public because of security and the difficult access.
Today the church serves the community as a regular parish church (which means it’s open for public on Sundays during service. It’s also oopen for visitors during summer).
Wikipedia: Stave_church, Iglesia_de_madera_de_Høre, Høre_stavkirke, Saltire, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saltire
- Stave Churches in Norway: Høre Stave Church
- Stave Churches in Norway: Hedalen Stave Church (cardinalguzman.wordpress.com)
- Stave Churches in Norway: Reinli Stave Church
- The Ancient Grinding Mills at Leine, Valdres