Stave Churches in Norway: Hedalen Stave Church

As some of you might know I’ve already written a post about the Norwegian Stave Church Høre. In my previous post you’ll find some general information regarding stave churches (and of course also about Høre), so if you’re interested in the subject you’ll hopefully find that post useful. First of all: Hedalen stave church can easily be confused with the similar named Heddal stave church, but these are two different stave churches and accoring to Captain Obvious they are to be found on separate locations. Hedalen stave church, which this post is about, is located in Sør-Aurdal, Valdres – in proximity to the main road called E16.

Hedalen Stave Church

After the Christianization of Valdres the Norse god hoof in Hedalen was replaced with a single nave stave church. In 1699 the stave church developed into a cruciform church. The oldest part of the church is probably from 1160 and is thus among the oldest wooden buildings in Norway, and probably the oldest surviving building in Valdres. Coins from King Sverre`s era (1177-1202) have been found under the floor. After 850 years of age the stave church remains solid and it’s still the center of the village, still in use as a regular parish church.

Deep grooves in the outer walls tells us the story about winter storms, blazing sunshine and countless layers of sticky tar.

The term stave derives from the construction of vertical corner posts.
The dimensions and durability of the timber are impressive. What is most special about the stave church in Hedalen is all the church artifacts from the Middle Ages. All Catholic objects were to be destroyed after the Reformation, but the official representative who came to Hedalen was (luckily) killed, so all these artifacts still remain today. These tangible art treasures, an altarpiece, baptismal font, reliquary and more, is still kept in the church, but the church’s famous Madonna figure was forcibly relocated to a Cultural Heritage site called ‘Oldsokssamlingen’ back in 1995. The west-facing portal features dragon and vine decorations from the late 1100s. These dragons symbolise the evil forces you leave behind before you enter the place of worship.

The reliquary is the most treasured item in the church. It is made out of copper-gilded wood, and dates back to around 1250. The figures featured are Christ, St. Mary, St John, St. Jacob, St. Thomas, St. Olav and St. Peter. Norway has only a few such reliquaries left. Its original reliquary casket is still intact, and is the only one of its kind. The Hedal Madonna (sculpture of St. Mary), dating back to the mid 1200s, is one of the most stunning pieces of medieval ecclesiastical art in Norway. Originally, the sacrament house was part of the triptych. Changes to this gothic triptych were probably made in 1699, and it was painted in 1769. Its crucifix dates back to around 1260-1280. The Romanesque font is made out of soapstone, and has a cover dating back to 1250.

The Legend

According to an old legend the stave church was left abandoned in the pine forest after the Black Death. One day a hunter saw a capercaillie (grouse) up in a pine tree. He gently stretched his bow and released the arrow. Unfortunately (?) the arrow whizzed right past the grouse and disappeared into the forest. Suddenly the arrow hit metal and the wood was filled with the magical sound of bells. Horrified the hunter began to walk carefully towards the sound and there, among the pine trees, he saw the church building.

Fire iron. Photo:

“This must be magic,” the hunter thought and threw his fire iron (flint and steel) over the roof to break the spell. But the church did not disappear. The hunter hesitantly went towards the door opening and peeked inside. Right beside the altar, he found a sleeping bear that he killed (I would assume that the bear would have been woken by the church bells, but obviously this bear was an extremely heavy sleeper). The bear skin was hung in the sacristy and the farm where the fire iron struck down, is still called “Ildjarnstad” (fire iron place).

Bell Tower / Belfry

Bell Tower / Belfry

This menhir (or bauta as it's called in Norwegian) outside Hedalen Stave Church, says:   "Syver E. Bruskerud F 22.9.1843 D i Staten  Oregon U.S.A. Den 10.1.1916  I erkjendelse  af hvad du har gjort for din  fødebygd sattes med  tak dette  minde anno 1923"  Meaning:  Syver E. Bruskerud Born 22.9.1843 Dead in the State of  Oregon U.S.A. On the 10.1.1916  In memory  of all that you've  done for the   village where you were born with thanks this  memory  was erected  in 1923"

This menhir (or bauta as it’s called in Norwegian) outside Hedalen Stave Church, says: “Syver E. Bruskerud F 22.9.1843 D, i Staten Oregon U.S.A., Den 10.1.1916, I erkjendelse af hvad du har gjort for din fødebygd sattes med tak dette minde anno 1923” Translated: “Syver E. Bruskerud, Born on the 22.9.1843, Died in the State of Oregon U.S.A., On the 10.1.1916, In memory of all that you’ve done for your place of birth, with thanks this memory was erected in 1923”

(just for fun, here’s the google translated version:
Seven E. Bruskerud F 9/22/1843 D, in the State Oregon USA, the 10.1.1916, in recognizing what you have done for your feed-in went on hold this Memorial anno 1923″)

Wonderful bauta detail

Some weird-looking cows that we saw near the stave church. Anyone knows which kind this is?

"Do I have something poking out my butt?"

“Do I have something poking out my butt?”

"Now put that camera away city boy!"

“Now how ’bout you put that camera away and get yerself back to the city, city boy!”

“Valdres – Norges Vakreste Eventyr” Valdres Trykkeri AS. (ISBN: 978-82-996654-7-6)

20 thoughts on “Stave Churches in Norway: Hedalen Stave Church

    • Thanks Angeline. That’s pretty much how the weather was like the whole weekend when we went on this trip. It’s gives a great backdrop for these photos 🙂

    • Thank you Jake. I just posted another post about a stave church, but I don’t have any more material available, so I’ll have to come up with something else to write about 🙂

  1. They look like heeland coos. That’s Scottish Highland cows for the unititiated. Great story. Love the carved, blackened wooden panel.

  2. Thank you for stopping by my blog and directing me to your highland cow photos. I’ve enjoyed having a look around your blog and look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks. I enjoyed reading your blog too. Great post from Blenheim. Faithful but Unfortunate?!? I still can’t believe anyone would wan’t that as a family motto!
      I’ll make sure to follow your photo project too – it’s very interesting.

  3. Thanks for posting the great photos. Any chance I could use the one of the Hedalen church belfry for my family history website? My great-great-grandfather used to ring the bell in that belfry.

  4. Pingback: Hedalen Stave Church – Revisit | Cardinal Guzman

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