Norway’s old wooden architecture is an extensive and rich cultural treasure. We have an impressive collection of wooden houses and storehouses from the Middle Ages (ca. 1000–1550). But most impressive of all is the fact that we are the only country in the world with 28 stave churches to show visitors, although it is true that some of them have been subject to alterations down through the years.
Originally, there were probably between 1.000 and 1.500 stave churches, all of them south of Trondheim. In a country with extensive forests, a sparse population and difficult communications, it was natural to build many small churches, mainly in wood. We do not know when the first ones were built, but we know that they stopped building them in the 14th century when the Black Plague decimated large parts of the population.
The stave churches are built around a braced structure consisting of staves (posts) and outer walls of vertical planks. In the earliest churches, the posts were driven into the ground, which meant they soon began to rot. Later, it became usual to let the church rest on a timber frame laid on top of stone foundations. Traces of the earliest churches have been found in archaeological excavations in the form of post holes.
Teams of travelling craftsmen who gradually developed their own ”style” probably built the stave churches. In retrospect, we can distinguish between several different types according to how they were built. These complicated buildings required insight into building techniques and knowledge of the properties of timber as a building material.
In 1851, an Act was passed laying down requirements for the size of churches in relation to the number of parishioners. The stave churches still standing at that time were too small and also very uncomfortable. Many were demolished, but thanks to the efforts of the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments (Fortidsminneforeningen), some were preserved on their original sites, while others were moved to museums. Several of the demolished churches were surveyed and are therefore documented. Church art, portals and other parts of the buildings were taken into the care of the major museums. Thus, we can still admire the high artistic quality of this part of our cultural heritage that contributed to creating such an atmospheric setting for religious life in the Middle Ages.
Norwegian name: Stavkirker i Norge.
Telephone: +47 57 67 88 40.