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.
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.