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