A “stavkirke” or “stave church” is an architectural style used for churches in Scandinavia at the end of the age of the Vikings in the 1100 and 1200s. The technique uses vertical pine posts (staves) to form the structure. In the earliest churches, the staves were sunk directly into the soil and, being pine, they rotted rather quickly, requiring that the entire church be rebuilt on a regular basis. Because of the need to continually rebuild, Sweden and other countries turned to stone churches like the ones I saw throughout Gotland.
However, in Norway, the tradition of building wooden stave churches continued and time brought innovations – by the 12th century these churches were being built on stone sills, which greatly increased their lifespan. Still, while thousands of stave churches were probably built in medieval Scandinavia, fewer than 30 remain today.
The church is believed to date back to around 1140, but was abandoned for about 700 years. The Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments purchased the building in 1880, but the church’s restoration – the reason it looks the way it does today – was largely due to the work of architect Peter Andreas Blix.
There is plenty of detail on this church too.
What I didn’t remember was how closely the structure of these churches resembles the medieval stone cathedrals in the heart of Europe – right down to the semi-circular asp that houses the altar.
The church is surrounded by a covered walkway (it even encircles the asp). This is where the ill, new mothers, lepers, and other “unclean” folks would have stood to listen to the service through a tiny window. Today the area provides welcome shade and a cooling breeze.
We pass through the narrow doorway (as part of a tour, as required). . .
. . . and enter a world of glowing wood.
While the layout and furnishings in the church are at least somewhat consistent with those of any Christian church,
looking up into the towering ceilings is a bit surreal.
But then, it’s all a bit otherworldly.
The replica Hopperstad Church is on the grounds of the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minnesota, (across the river from Fargo, North Dakota) and can be seen at any time, although the interior is only open as part of a tour.
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