History. The current stave church Ringebu was built in about 1220. Old coins dating back to the 11th Century were found under floorboards and stones, and from many cultures. It is big. Big. Its appearance now is a result of reconstruction after an early burning, then "improvements" and expansion into a cruciform shape. It had been built in a more equilateral-armed cross footprint, with a detached belfry. The steeple is new, too new.
Evolution of Christianities. Other changes came with doctrines that were imposed after kings converted under pressure from the unstoppable Holy Roman Empire, and their royal edicts compelling the people to become Christian in the new HRE way. Then the 1600's -- think back to Reformation, post-Reformation, Counter-Reformation eras.
It was in the 15th Century that Norway had became part of Catholic Denmark. There came a new imposition of rules, conformity and demonization of other paths to belief, pressed on top of the earlier changes in Christian approaches imposed. Reformations after that brought new austerities, I understand.
Architectural changes to fit dogma. Steeples were often added. Older stave churches may have a separate bell tower, and merely another "story" of rooftops. This steeple does not fit the stave architecture.
Ringebu Stave Church, Norway
The original church had earlier burned and collapsed -- a stave church is a wooden church, and these had first been constructed with deeply dug log pillars that often had rotted within a hundred years. The replacement was also wood, but built on a stone foundation. With Catholicism in control in the 1600's, Christianity in Norway became austere in wiping out the indigenous traces in the churches, with older architectural themes such as dragons extending from the eaves, whacked off. Ill-fitting steeple structures followed, plunked on top.
Ringebu looks like things are indeed not as they were, are gone missing, or thoughtlessly added. A badly planned diet. Pulls in too many directions. Somebody forced her to cut her hair, and wear a barrel. FN 1
In earlier, less tampered-with stave churches, dragons remain affixed to the roof corners. Wonderful.
Windows are high, not for looking out. This gives the churches a fortress appearance, but there would be little security from a real attack, given the flammability. The transition from earlier Celtic-type Christianity, with its example instead of force methodology, was not smooth. Fear of the Holy Roman Empire crossing into Norway and Sweden accelerated the conversion of the kings, and, in turn, their imposition of new rules and disciplines on the people.
FN 1. History, evolution of Christianity
- How did Christianity in practice change in Norway, from earliest contacts. This site, vet as you will, see http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/the_viking_age_and_christianity_in_norway.shtml, analyzes early Christian influences, in the 5th and 6th Centuries and finds Celtic missionaries, and often Gnostic faiths lived, not forced.
- Then enter the Holy Roman Empire, heir to the newly militant church, and its violent incursions into indigenous cultures, as with Charlemagne at the Saxon lands. See Sachsenhain.
- The 11th Century in Norway brought another wave of Christianizing ("force and deceit" - see site, also noting similarities in Norse legends and beliefs, that easily echoed in the Christian) and this does appear to be the case, as elsewhere at the time), as kings in Denmark and Sweden after the 900's-1000 or so had seen the devastation of HRE's institutionalizing and plowing by forced conversion through the Saxon lands to the south, Northern Crusades set loose by taking some 40 years to slaughter, subdue and "Christianize" them. Who could fight that?
- The kings saw the runes on the wall, and themselves converted, although not necessarily completely or without relapse. The early vitality of the Christian groups remained, however, and showed in the 11th Century stave churches ordered to be built -- about a thousand of them between the 1100's and 1500's.
Some early churches are stone, not wooden, but may have stave roofs. These are often not included in the listings of pure "stave" churches, but just as interesting. The best of the 28 remaining truly stave churches are in more remote areas, and retain the original dragons and more of the interior paint and structures, such as at Vik or Borgund. See there the early vitality now gone.