The (Replica) Hopperstad Stavkirke in Moorhead, Minnesota

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2018)

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.

This latter method, with a stone sill, was the construction method used in the original Hopperstad Church in the town of Vik, Norway.

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.

The church in Moorhead is a full-scale replica of the restored Hopperstad Church. It was begun in 1997 by carver Guy Paulson, and completed with help from a variety of community members.

replica stav church

I’ve seen one stave church before, the Gol Church at the Norwegian Folk Museum when I was in Oslo many years ago. I remember that church as being dark (both inside and out), but with amazing details.

aug 16 stave church in Norway from 1983

There is plenty of detail on this church too.

dragon detail on stav church

roof replica stav church Moorhead

roof trim replica stav church Moorhead

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.

replica stave church

replica stave church

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.

replica stave church

aug 28 DSC_4817 stave church in Moorhead Minnesota

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aug 31 DSC_4911 stave church in Moorhead Minnesota

replica stave church

We pass through the narrow doorway (as part of a tour, as required). . .

aug 34 DSC_4813 stave churchh in Moorhead Minnesota

. . . and enter a world of glowing wood.

stave church ceiling

While the layout and furnishings in the church are at least somewhat consistent with those of any Christian church,

aug 38 DSC_4906 stave church in Moorhead Minnesota

Aug 40 DSC_4902 stave church in Moorhead Minnesota

looking up into the towering ceilings is a bit surreal.

stave church ceiling

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.

The Hjemkomst Center

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