Thursday, September 22, 2011

Borgund Stave Church - Norway's Oldest

A highlight of my recent Scandinavian tour would have to be the Borgund Stave Church in Norway's northern fjordlands. Amazingly, the timber for the Borgund church was felled during the winter of 1180 and the Viking-influenced building was constructed soon afterwards. The design and construction was modeled after traditional ship building methods in that part of the world.

A "stave" is the upright timber that forms the framework of the church. The construction has survived all these years because the staves were set in stone. The church roof is capped with Viking-inspired dragon heads, much like ships. The dragon's heads provided drainage and ornamentation:

Here's a closeup of the roof shingles which were tarred to prevent rot (the church was undergoing some preservation when we visited, which is why there's scaffolding in the photos):

The interior of the church is quite small--probably holds about 30-40 people. It is still used today for small ceremonies like christenings and weddings. The staves are held together by large pincer beams. The stave framework was probably assembled on the ground and then raised with poles:

Here's a closeup of the church interior. The diagonal cross braces are named for St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross. The only source of light is the upper port holes, reminiscent of a ship. If you look up on the inside of the church, the exposed ribs remind you of an inverted ship:

The pulpit is from 1550s. There would not have been a pulpit in Catholic (medieval) times:

The medieval stone altar was painted in the mid-1600s to depict Christ's crucifixion:

The churchyard gravestones and markers were just as interesting as the church itself. Many stones and markers were hundreds of years old. Up until the beginnings of the 19th century it was common to bury the dead under the church floor until the practice was banned. Stillborn infants or babies that died before being baptised could not be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Tiny coffins are still placed under the floor in modern times.

Some closeups of the most unusual stones and markers:

Some stones were moss and lichen-covered which added to the ancient feel of the churchyard.

Finally, here's an example of a living thatched roof cottage on the church grounds.

On this trip I saw several castles and fine mansions. None were as interesting in illustrating the Norwegian culture as the Borgund Stave Church.


Janis said...

This is just so fascinating to me Faye. To think that it has been preserved all these years. I love it. Our country is a baby compared to Norway!
BTW...I left you an award on my blog...hope you will come over and grab it. You may have to scan down a few post to see it! :)

Faye said...

janis-our country is a baby. That's what we always think when visiting older countries like in Europe. And I did get my lovely award, thank you. I like being thought of as a "versatile" blogger! Haven't written a post for it yet--thinking about a different angle. I've been a bit under the weather since got home--cough, chest congestion-for a month now. One of the pitfalls of travel being jammed up with a lot of germy people! :-)

diana said...

This is the kind of wonderful old holy place that really touches my soul. Don't you wonder about all the people who built it and have worshiped here through the ages?

I hope you are feeling better by now. Whenever I catch a cold it goes straight to my chest and turns into asthmatic bronchitis. It seems like I can never get rid of it without a dose of steroids!