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Borgund And Stave Churches, Norway
Borgund Stavkirke at Lærdal in Western Norway is the only stave church that has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. The church was pieced together from about 2000 carefully crafted pieces of wood around 1150 and was dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew.
Inside Borgund Stavkirke there is not much ornamentation to be seen. Even the lighting is limited to but a few openings on the walls above our head. There are no pews to sit on or decorations to marvel at.
The exterior, however, id very different. The Borgund stave church is decorated with dragons, depictions of battles, and runic inscriptions. The pulpit is 16th century, there is a free-standing belfry with a bell from the Middle Ages.
Stave churches survive in remote, isolated places. The sights were originally chosen on account of their high exposure to create dramatic visual effect.
Borgund Stave Church Timeline
- 1150, Borgund Stavkirke is built in place of an old rotting church.
- 1300s, chancel and apse are added to the stave church.
- 1500s, pulpit and altarpiece are added to the building.
- 1870, the church surrenders regular service to a new one built nearby.
The exterior of the church is richly adorned with vine-like ornamentation and carvings of battles between dragons and warriors.
Construction Of Stave Churches
The wooden wall columns of the earliest stave churches of the 11th century were built directly into the ground. Because moisture in the ground caused them to rot away, they usually lasted less than 100 years.
In later years, builders would set the wooden framework on sills rested on a stone foundation. The whole wooden structure was elevated above ground level thus protected from humidity. This construction technique proved so effective that churches raised in the 12th century survive to this day.
Stave Church Designs
Thirty stave churches remain in Norway, and of them Borgund Stave Church is probably the largest and most decorated. However, all stave churches are simple, small structures with a nave and a narrow chancel.
Borgund Stavkirke boasts a chancel with a distinctive semicircular apse. The division between them is marked by stave posts. The interior is dimly lit, as light can only sieve through from small round windows under the 3-tiered roof, which is crowned by a turret. Stave churches tend to be encircled in an external gallery.
Ornamentation Of Stave Churches
Around 1000, pagan and Christian cultures and beliefs were merged into one. Old temples were destroyed and in their place stave churches were built. In the richly decorated carvings in stave churches, Pagan gods and symbols were represented in disguise along the side of medieval Christian saints.
In Borgund Stavkirke, the West door frame designs are particularly elaborate showing off the skill of the carpenters who embellished them with intricate carvings. The most readily available wood from pine trees was commonly used. Branches and bark were removed from the trees, which were then left to dry out before being chopped down, making the wood was more weather-proof.
Borgund Stave Church Video
Borgund Stave Church Map, Norway
- Spire sitting atop the 3-tired roof.
- Central tower decorated with dragon heads on the gables meant to cleanse the of the evil spirits of pagan worship.
- Windows are simple, circular openings meant to let in a moderate amount of light.
- The alterpiece, almost the only decoration inside the church, was added in 1654.
- Crosses of St. Andrew border the central nave in the shape of X.
- External gallery.
- West door.
- The gables above apse towers and doorways are decorated with crosses.
- Twelve staves in the central part of the nave to support the roof and give an elevated sense of height.
- Main roof covered in pine shingles.
King Olav The Holy
Olav Haraldsson was crowned king of Norway in 1016.
He converted the country to Christianity, destroyed pagan monuments and built stave churches in their place. He was slain in a battle in 1030.
One year later his body was exhumed and King Olav was declared a saint.
Rich embellishment in stave churches comes from Norway's Viking age.
In that era, skilled carving techniques were developed to combine art and woodworking in marriage to construct monuments and memorials.
Dragons and serpents were common designs in these carvings as elements of Viking art.