The last stave churches


A stave church is a medieval church once common in north-western Europe. In Norway alone there were between 1000 and 2000 stave churches. Now only 28 remain, most of them 800-850 years old. Almost all the surviving stave churches are in Norway. Outside the country there are two in Sweden, and one in Poland that was relocated from Norway in 1842. One of these churches, Urnes, is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But I would say that the stave churches in general is world heritage, not to mention Norwegian heritage. That doesn’t mean that Norway is taking good care of them. Our Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments (SPANM) owns 8 of the 28 stave churches, and gets no support from the state for presenting them to the public. So this summer some of them probably will stay closed, and this NGO, with a history back to 1844, says they might actually sell some stave churches in the future to be able to do their work.

Kvernes stavkirke

Of the two pictures above, the first is Lom stave church. This more than 850 years old building is still the main church in the village of Lom, and as such well taken care of by the local community. The red one is Kvernes stave church, and it is owned by SPANM. It is one of the youngest, and biggest, build about 1300. In 1894, it was put up for sale and was bought by a group of individuals who fortunately donated it as a gift to the society. The congregation built a new church in 1893, so on this historical site on Averøy there are two churches with a graveyard from the middle ages between them.



I have read in the newspapers about teachers complaining that that our schools nowadays are not supposed to teach our children and young people about our old history. Was it 1750 that was the limit? I am not sure, but how can a nation keep our unity if we don’t know our roots? And that goes for any nation as I can see it. If you don’t know the history of your cultural heritage, you probably don’t see the value of it either.


An organization for cultural heritage don’t only preserve old buildings. They also want the public to know their history and to visit them. Above is another building owned by the SPANM: Steinvikholm Castle the largest construction raised in the Norwegian middle age, and of major historical importance in Norway. The castle was finished in 1532, built by Norway’s last Catholic archbishop, Olav Engelbrektsson. In 1537, the Danish-Norwegian Reformation succeeded in driving the archbishop from the castle into exile in the Netherlands. Norway became a Protestant country. SPANM had trouble getting public funds for restoration, but I believe the fortress now is secured. But the opera staged there every summer is now performed outside the castle, a play I posted about in 2012. Below is the ruin of  Tautra Abbey (Tautra Mariakloster) a monastery of Cistercian founded in 1207 on the island of Tautra in the Trondheimsfjord (I posted about it in 2011). Also owned by SPANM, as is 40 other buildings of different kinds. All expressing what makes this country unique and telling our history.


The name stave church derives from a building structure where the load-bearing posts are called stafr in Old Norse, and stav in modern Norwegian. I’ll end this story with one more stave church. It is not owned by the society, but was moved from its original location in Haltdalen to a museum in Trondheim. It was probably built in the 1170s, and is the only one preserved of the single-nave stave churches of east Scandinavian-style. In 2000 a replica of this church was given to Iceland, in commemoration of their thousandth anniversary of the conversion to Christianity. The replica is built at Vestmannaeyjar, in an area formed by the lava of the 1973 eruption. If you want to see more photos, here is a link to my photo gallery of stave churches, on of medieval Norway.

Haltdalen stavkirke



73 thoughts on “The last stave churches

  1. I can hardly believe anyone would say not to study your own history pre-1750! Did I understand you correctly there? That’s terrible! The history of a place is so essential to cultures. Not to study one’s own history is like saying reading is bad, knowledge is bad.
    These are amazingly old churches! What a wonder that they’re so well preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There might be some teachers, in some subjects who teach about older history, but as I understood from one frustrated teacher, the older history was not part of the plan. I just looked at the plan for pupils the last 3 years before high scool. No older history. The oldest: french revolution, and the US fight for freedom. By the way I asked one student finished with high scool if they learned anything about religion. “Yes, but only the last year (of 3) we learned about buddhism, islam and such things”. Anything about the Christian religion? “No, nothing, the teacher didn’t find time for that.” I am getting more and more surprised of what they learned in our schools, or more exactly, what they don’t learn anything about. Thanks Anneli.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I guess they want to tell our history, but there is always a question of priority. The priority may not be very high, or they think others can do all the job, for next to nothing. And this country is full of volunteeers, but some things are more important. All of these very old churches should definitely be of the highest priority, and the society preserving some of them, also given the highest priority with proper funds. You have done a great blog post about the Yoshinogari Historical Park in Japan. And as you write, these historical sites are so important for both local and international tourists. Thank you Mark Quijano.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, you’re right. The good thing is there are volunteers who are willing to do something for that Churches. Let’s just hope for the best.

        Thank you very much for reading my blogs as well. I really appreciate it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, these churches are amazing.
    I can’t imagine how any school would NOT want to teach and record the country’s history, especially when there are buildings as old as in your photos.
    Thanks for sharing.

    (note: when I was at school, Australian history was mandatory – don’t know about now, but certainly there is plenty of publicity and Historical Societies to preserve our historical buildings which are only about 200+ years old).


    1. Any country’s history should be mandatory at school, of course. Even if that history is only 200 years old, and there is anyway the history of the indigenous peoples. There is probably something about Vikings etc. for smaller children our school, but in the very important years from 13 to 16 (Ungdomsskolen) there is nothing before 1800 it seems. I can’t find that they teach anything about the older Norwegian history (like medieaval times) in highschool, but I could be wrong.The plan doesn’t say anything specific about teaching about WWI, WWII or Holocaust (13-16 y) either, but that is another subject. Thank you Vivki. Link to the plan (Norwegian):


  3. Fabulous post with good information, Bente.
    Since I visited one of those “Kirkan” (is it correct ?) and almost lost a word then,
    I can see how it is unique and important heritage to the mankind.
    ( I wonder those wooden roof, — how many times has it been replaced. = every 50 years ? )


    1. Heritage to the mankind, that is a good expression, Yoshizen. Because that is exactly what it is, and every country have a part of this heritage. Almost correct Yoshi, you visited en kirke, kirken (a church, the church). These old wooden buildings were made with special, old, hard wood, and often impregnated with tar. I think EU prohobited tar (since it is a carcinogen if eaten), but that we got an exception for this use. The roofs are made with tiny pieces of wood from very old trees, they have to be more than 200 years old, and there is not many left in these modern times of forestry. I read that the people restoring one old stave church roof, that they hope it will last 150 years. But getting the materials to preserve this 1000 year old building techniques are getting harder:


      1. When I visited, what struck me most was that their roof was covered by the hand made pieces of wooden tiles.
        Chinese, Japanese got a roof tile made out of pottery. English got slates to cover the roof —– your country
        used the wood, the same skill to build the Viking ship ! That’s what I meant “The Heritage”


  4. Great post, but sad as well – & wonderful photos as usual. Those stave churches are lovely. THis qorld with is carelessness towards architectural heritage is so painful. But – no teaching of the history that produced it ? WHAT? That’s just ridiculous, and in a place with such a rich history as well. Scandinavia influenced the world way back when. What are the ‘educators’ thinking of???


    1. I don’t know, maybe they don’t think that much. Or maybe they are just looking ahead, and don’t see that knowing ones history is necessary for finding the right way. Unfortunately I don’t think carelessness towards our heritage is unique. In some places they even blow it to pieces with purpose. Thank you for your comment Mtlawleyshire.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Those are wonderful buildings Bente – it is so hard to believe that wooden buildings can survive so long in your harsh climate. They are beautiful constructions, made with reverence and care. It is a shame that history is respected so little.


    1. The craftsmen really knew what they were doing then, everything from selecting the right logs in the wood. In our industrial world a lot of this knowledge is gone or forgotten, but we have small groups who try to keep it alive. Not the least neccessary for taking care of buildings like this. Thank you Anna.


  6. Hello bente, thank you for sharing this cultural heritage with us. This church is truly magnificent and say it dates from the Middle Ages is surprising when you see the state it is. Long live the heritage.
    Good day to you


    1. Yes, long live the heritage, in Norway, France and all over the world. Imagine there are people destroying world heritage, on purpose, these days. Hardly possible to believe. Thak you very much and have a good day, Val.


    1. Kjempefint at du har fått sett noen av disse flotte byggene. Trodde du bare hadde besøkt Island, men det er selvsagt mye å oppleve i hele Norden. Og i Tyskland. Goten tag, danke schön og ha en riktig fln tirsdag.


      1. Ha en finfin dag, du også.
        Jeg var veldig, veldig. veldig …. ofte i Norge. Første gangen i 1995 og da var jeg straks forelsket i landet. I løpet av årene reste jeg gjennom hele landet og var allerede i alle de flotte fylkene Norge ha å tilby. Siste gangen var jeg i 2011 i Norge. Det var planlagt å reise til Norge i siste sommeren igjen. Men vi fant ingen passende losji i det ønsket området. Så ble de Frankrike og Alpene. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesting post, Bente. Those stave churches are fascinating structures and as there are so few remaining, I hope they will be preserved….


  8. The old stave churches look as though they should all be World Heritage. Priceless treasures. I don’t know how much history is taught in our schools. I expect only the bare minimum. Even in my long ago school days, history was an optional subject.


  9. Wonderful photos of lovely old churches, Bente. When I was at school in the 1960s we did the Romans and then jumped almost striaght to the Industrial Revolution. These days it is better, although politicians still like to interfere with history teaching and dictate what is taught according to their own agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is very interesting and a bit sad at the same time. I agree with you about teaching children about our ancient history and traditions as this helps us understand our customs and why things are the way they are and why we behave the way we do. These are beautiful buildings and deserve be be preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Help us understand for sure. People in every country have roots they need to learn about, and also about world history. Why otherwise talk about rootless people as a problem? And it is fascinating knowledge too. Thank you for your comment Fatimasaysell.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Magnifique reportage . Les photos sont très belles , j’aime beaucoup l’architecture de ces églises . Merci pour les explications très intéressantes .
    Bonne semaine , amicalement


  12. The gallery was well worth the visit, especially for the B&W treatments. That large church is most impressive, and the gothic-like treatment you gave it in the first photo is well suited.

    Sadly, I think even recent history is being neglected, reinterpreted, and overall massaged to give a message as opposed to reporting on actual events.

    I think the lack of interest is in part it’s due to the tremendous attraction of those little screens we carry around, but also the fact that these days we are bombarded with so much information that our attention span (not yours and mine, and that of a few more people, but rather the population at large) has been shortened just by trying to process the sheer amount of stuff thrown at us.

    Of course, 90% of the stuff people pay attention to (sports, entertainment, and celebrities) is crap, but it’s shiny and it sparkles. Trying to tell people of the struggles and sacrifices and hardships from even 80 years ago is a bit like dousing them with a cold bucket of water . . . they don’t like it.

    The news doesn’t help, either. There is so much bad news reported, often from far away places but still about human suffering, that one becomes numb from the assault on one’s sensibilities. I think it has the dual effect of making people not care about events (this hurts because history can offer lessons about similar events), and pushes people to seek an escape from the psychic pain.

    . . . or so I believe. Regardless, not good news for society and humanity.

    Meanwhile, I enjoy your photos and documentation of a time past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right, that mobile phoes and also computer games takes a lot of attraction. But you people still goes to school I presume. I see discussions about the young using their phones even in class, but if so where are the teachers? I am just crossing my fingers hoping the next generations will know something more than just entertainment. Thank you Emilio.


  13. very surprising that they stand upright after all these years. Surely there were a few small repairs but they hold up. Sometimes even better than our roads and cement bridges we do today 🙂


  14. The churches are magnificent, as are your photographs of them. I’ve always heard of the stave churches, but never seen such lovely examples. I’m interested now to read more about them.

    I can only echo what’s been said above about the importance of history. If history isn’t well taught, uninformed people may well fall prey to those who would misrepresent or distort events of the past. I think, for example, of those who deny what happened during the Holocaust. How someone could deny that it happened, I just don’t know.

    History was such a large part of my education. In either 5th or 6th grade, we had a year of Iowa history (the state I grew up in). In junior high, there was American history, and a year of Western Civilization that covered the Greeks, the Romans, and the development of Europe and Scandinavia. There was more history in high school, including electives in Asian or South American history for those who were interested. I could go on and on, but you take my point. It was assumed that we needed to know from whence civilization had come, in order to plot a good course into the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lovely buildings.

    Many of the Scottish Churches were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation as a result of reformer John Knox going to Perth in 1559 to preach a series of inflammatory sermons. On 25 May a mob in the city partly demolished the parish church and several of the monasteries.

    It’s good that some churches remain from centuries ago.


  16. Your words resonated for me: “…how can a nation keep our unity if we don’t know our roots? And that goes for any nation as I can see it. If you don’t know the history of your cultural heritage, you probably don’t see the value of it either.” Americans, alas, know almost nothing about history, often not even basic things like what country the United States broke away from or who the first president of the country was.

    Liked by 1 person

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