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Lom Stave Church, Norway - Photo: Chris Lorang Arnesen
Lom Stave Church, Norway Photo: Chris Lorang Arnesen

Stave churches

Stave churches are an important part of Norway's architectural heritage. Urnes Stave Church in the Sognefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Norway is the only country in Northern Europe with wooden churches from the Middle Ages still intact.

During the Middle Ages, when immense cathedrals were being built in stone in other places in Europe, a similar technique was developed in Norway for building in wood.  Boat construction and home building in the Viking times had developed the technique and tradition of combining art with wood working. This culminated in the stave churches.

The stave churches are a particularly valuable part of the Norwegian architectural heritage, and are considered to be of national and global importance.

UNESCO World Heritage

Norway's oldest wooden church is Urnes Stave Church in Luster beside the Sognefjord. It is also the only stave church to make the prestigious UNESCO's World Heritage List. 

Built in 1150, it was once a private church for a powerful high-born family. Its builders were aware of international trends in architecture, and transferred these trends from stone to wood. The interior of the church is exceptionally richly decorated with motifs from real life such as elk and doves, but also imaginary centaurs and dragons. This decoration has become known as the Urnes style.

Popular churches

The largest stave church in Norway is Heddal. It is not only a medieval architectural masterpiece, but also a living church for today's congregation in Notodden in Telemark. On the wall in the exterior passage, you can see runes inscribed, telling that the church was dedicated to the holy Virgin Mary.

Inside the church you can see a beautifully carved wooden chair from around 1200. The wall-painting that you see today is dated 1668. Underneath, on the west wall, there are remains of the original painting from about 1300.

However, the most visited and most photographed stave church in Norway is Borgund in Lærdal beside the Sognefjord. It is also one of the best preserved stave churches. Several runic inscriptions have been found on the church walls.

Intricate decorations

There are several types of stave churches but the common element to all of them is that they have corner-posts (“staves”) and a skeleton or framework of timber with wall planks standing on sills. These walls are known as stave walls, hence the name stave church.

The decoration of stave churches feature an intriguing combination of Christian designs intermixed with what is often assumed to be pre-Christian Viking motifs, such as the interwoven dragon motifs. The wooden doors and finials are beutifully carved.

Norway's remaining stave churches

Church Built           
Gol 1235 - 1265
The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Folk Museum) in Oslo. A replica of this church can be seen in Gol.
1285 - 1315 West-Telemark Museum in Telemark
Heddal   1275 - 1300 Notodden in Telemark
1300 - 1340 Røldal in Hardanger
1225 - 1250 Hedalen in Valdres
1235 - 1265 Øystre Slidre in Valdres
1235 - 1265 Vestre Slidre in Valdres
1225 - 1250 Vang in Valdres
1250 - 1300 Vang in Valdres
1290 - 1320 Reinli in Valdres
1200 - 1225 Torpo in Hallingdal
1190 - 1225 Maihaugen Museum in Lillehammer
Ringebu 1225 - 1250 Ringebu in Gudbrandsdalen
1225 - 1250 Lærdal beside the Sognefjord
Urnes 1150 - 1175 Luster beside the Sognefjord
Kaupanger 1180 Sogndal beside the Sognefjord
1190 - 1225 Vik beside the Sognefjord
1300 Undredal near the Nærøyfjord
1210 - 1240 Lom
1285 - 1315 Åndalsnes
1285 - 1315 Averøya outside of Kristiansund
1300 - 1325 The island of Grip outside of Kristiansund
Haltdalen 1190 - 1225 Trøndelag Folk Museum Sverresborg in Trondheim
Høyjord 1325 - 1350 Høyjord near Tønsberg
Flesberg 1235 - 1265 Flesberg in Buskerud
Rollag 1225 - 1250 Rollag in Buskerud
Nore 1235 - 1265 Nore in Buskerud
Uvdal 1235 - 1265 Uvadal near Hardangervidda
*Fantoft 1150 Fantoft near Bergen

*The original stave church at Fantoft, originally built in Fortun in Sogn in 1150 and moved to Fantoft in 1883, burned to the ground on 6 June 1992. Fantoft Stave Church has since been rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire.

*Øye Stave Church is believed to have been built at the end of the 1100s. The church was in a poor state of repair, and it either rotted away or was taken by the wind. 1747 saw the consecration of the new Øye Church where the original stave church had once stood.  It was not until the 1930s, when work had to be done on the foundations of the new church, that the old stave church was found - 156 pieces in total. It was decided to re-erect Øye Stave Church, which was consecrated in 1965. 

Last updated:  2015-02-18
Borgund Stave Church is the best preserved of all Norwegian stave churches - Photo: Pål Bugge/Innovation Norway
Borgund Stave Church is the best preserved of all Norwegian stave churches
Heddal Stave Church in Telemark, Norway - Photo: Berit Lindheim
Heddal Stave Church in Telemark, Norway
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Lom Stave Church, Norway - Photo: Chris Lorang Arnesen

Stave churches

Stave churches are an important part of Norway's architectural heritage. Urnes Stave Church in the Sognefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stave churches

Source: Visitnorway



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