Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ringebu, Stave Church. A Changing Structure


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



Preservation techniques.  The dark color of many stave churches, intensity depending on the light, comes from a tarring process, smeared on to preserve the wood.  These were ship-builders, with knowledge of waterproofing.  It worked, except for those piers stuck deep in the ground, that indeed rotted.

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.


Ironwork detail.  Whimsy and skill in lock-backs.  Little troll shapes. Trolls we saw (!) are often frolicking, teasing, dancing creatures, not the stodgy logs. Is this old or not?


Entries to various kinds of compounds may include a gateway, with information posted inside.  This is useful because many/most tourist places, like historic sites, close on August 31.  That leaves many of us wanting to travel at the end of August through September 15 or so, when the weather is still great and the vacationing local crowds are back home, stranded.  Norway loses a lot of PR as well as income, perhaps, by shutting down or shortening so many hours to see attractions, as does Denmark and Sweden.  Norse?  Are you listening? Please leave someone about with a key.


Note the shingle pattern on the gateway.  This is common on roofs and gateways like these.  On oldest stave churches this is also often the pattern.


We joked and call these wonderful small structures (here a utility garage of sorts?? a meeting room??) bad baby houses and got ourselves a laugh.  Please tell us what this is for. It is a fine two-story little building near Ringebu Stave Church.


Grave markers.  In Sweden, we learned at Boxholm that markers left for a time with noone to care for the grave, were not kept up anyway, but fell away.  Gravesites were then reused.  Here, markers are collected under a little roof area.  Of interest is the cross shapes, like that of my husband's grandfather, made of iron.   This one has three lobes at the end, sometimes seen in Nestorian crosses, see http://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/nestorian.html; but how would that come to Norway, or Sweden?  A three-budded cross could also be for the Trinity? A budded Celtic Cross with representation of old earth, air, fire, water?  Check old graveyard crosses elsewhere in Europe, as in France, at La Couvertoirade.  Lobed crosses can have several meanings, or are just liked by the purchaser.

Some symbols take more research. Here, a rosette.


Heart shapes are not unusual in old Norse graveyards, this one looks like a newer shaped headstone but an old symbol. Track the heart's uses at http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/a-heart-shaped-history.php Later religious institutions adopt old forms and give new interpretations, so the meaning of this one is obscure.


The rebuilding of old churches, and even using old materials, is seen at the joins. Angles don't fit.  Best clue. See also the new stone foundation. 


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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.  
Those early churches were not always wanted, however, and many appear to be fortresses in function.

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.

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