Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Stave Church

A millenium ago the Vikings of Scandinavia cast off their ancient gods and converted to Christianity.  The early church buildings of Norway were built of wood and reflected the Viking culture and their tradition of shipbuilding.  These churches were known as "stave churches" because the interior framework was formed with tall wooden posts or staves.  Of the 1000 stave churches that were built in Norway between 1130 and 1350 only 28 remain.

Yesterday morning I went to visit the oldest remaining church.  The Hopperstad Stave Church was probably built around 1140.  At 8:00 I hopped on the passenger ship and took a fifteen minute ride across the fjord to the next stop, the town of Vik.  (The word "vik" in the old Norse language meant fjord, and it is from that word that we get the word Viking.) From Vik I walked for about twenty minutes to the rural village of Hopperstad.  There, like an apparition from the Middle Ages, stands the stave church.

The roof is decorated with gargoyle-like projections of dragons' heads which are reminiscent of the prows of Viking ships.


The church did not open until 10:00, and I still had an hour to wait.  So I took a leisurely walk down the road through the Norwegian countryside.

As luck would have it just as the church opened, a tour bus pulled up.  The unique medieval atmosphere of the church's small, dim interior was not the same with a group of around thirty tourists and a tour guide giving her spiel.  I waited for them to leave.

The church's interior is noteworthy for its austerity.  Very little has been added since it was built.  There are not even any pews.  Early worshipers stood throughout the service.  Only the sick or elderly were seated on benches along the walls. 

Here you see the staves or thick wooden posts which hold the structure up.

Gazing upward, the construction of the roof looks like an inverted boat, a reflection of the culture's boat building heritage.

A narrow opening leads from the nave to the chancel.  The congregants were separated from where the priest conducted the mass.

After my visit to the church, I walked back to Vik, and took the next boat back to Ballestrand.


  1. Will a stave church be this year's Christmas card?

    1. Oh, I always keep mum about the subject of my next Christmas card. :-)