Friday, November 8, 2013

Tingvoll Stone Church. Overview of Norway's medieval stone and stave churches

Norway's Stave and Stone Churches. 
Sequential belief systems -- an unkind evolution from vitality to sterility,
for those structures on the beaten paths.

This one escaped much of that.
Is that so? 

A.  Stave means wooden, made of wood. The term has come to mean those churches that are completely made of wood; but medieval stave churches in Norway come in two basic varieties. There are only some 28+/- left, after 1-2,000 had been constructed.  See list of remaining stave churches:

A.1. The first and earliest variety, and the best known, is the entirely stave church, built of wood with post-and-beam, interlocking, intricate means of soaring up multiple eaves, rooflines.  Some, in height and drama, resemble the great wooden churches of Romania and elsewhere, but in Norway, the stave structure also utilized the great shipbuilding skills of the people. Roofs show exposed beams, curves.  See an overview at

A.2  The second and somewhat later variety, by a few decades I understand, of medieval stave church in Norway is less striking in silhouette, and combines stone walls with stave roofs, such as the Church at Tingvoll, the Tingvoll Church.

This stone type was durable, expensive to build, and was often constructed for status where bishops and the well-to-do sought the prestige of secure stone.  Those stone churches did survive largely the fires, and the wood rot of posts and pillars that doomed so many totally wooden stave churches. See the Cambridge History of Scandinavia, edited by Knut Helle, Issue 1.  To find it, search for history of stave churches norway stone.

As I understand it, both kinds of stave churches, the stone and the totally stave, were constructed in the 12th-13th centuries upon order of the newly converted king, and as part of how to unify a vastly autonomous collection of peoples, while allowing and encouraging the old ways, simultaneously. This was not an era of demonizing the old, thrashing it out; but simply expanding concepts to include the new Other. See a Varg Vikernes' non-traditional and highly respectful view of Norse religion, at  The old ways in this country did not and were not forced to die out, as in mainstream-contiguous Europe. The concept explains many anomalies in visiting old sites. They do coexist. Read all sources.  The guidebooks only talk to themselves.

B.  Demise

 Originally, there were some 1000-2000 "instant" wooden stave churches;  now there are only 28 of the original type, all wood, and many of those are reconstructions from earlier structures that burned or rotted within a hundred years or so.  Newer ones set piers on stone, not dug deep into the dirt. Some wooden stave churches were replaced with the stone variety.  Later religious institutions compelled the building of new, bigger barns for churches, and the old staves were destroyed or let rot. So the stave churches, where the tour buses go are few, and usually are reconstructions after disastrous fires, set on new stone foundations, and altered according to the religious style du jour.

Early untrammelled stave church, not pared down by later coercive institutions with their own dogma.

Norwegian all-wood stave churches, and they have such marvelous multiple eaves and silhouettes and interior delights in cubby holes and in the dimness as to make one gasp. See construction at

Why so few surviving totally wood churches? The technique of preserving wood with tarring, also increased its flammability, is that so? A 19th Century law required that local churches seat 3 of 10 in the parish, and many of the smaller stave churches were pulled down.

C.  Beat out the joy.

In too many, as here at Hoyjord, there has been a later removal of pagan-recalling dragons or serpents on roofs, with only a fleeting reference remaining. Removal of old symbolism and belief that coexisted for centuries with the Christian ideas left  husks of stave churches looking odd and sterile, but so it was. Is.

Compare this prudery with Vik.  Sterile now.  How was it originally built?  Were there dragons? The construction year: 1175.  The regularity now is stifling. It had been relocated to this place, and rebuilt,  final reconstruction in 1950.  It looks it. The windcock on the top of the new steeple is a dragon, however, so someone cares.

Go to see the all-wood stave churches, but place as much value if not more on the equally old stone churches. Those did not burn. They lack the swoops and whoops and fanciful eave dragons and serpents, of multiple eaves and gables, but house as much of interest inside.

D.  Back to Tingvoll, stone church.  1150-1175 or so.

From the outside, ordinary style.  It kept a tolerance for earlier forms inside, incorporating Roman Catholic details.  Follow the church website for details, but this barely discernible. Was it revealed in the 1928 restorations? See

Ordinary old stone rectangle,but inside is glorious. The process of Christianizing had been a matter of force by kings but then softened and earlier ways were tolerated, see the kings and issues here  The area now known as Norway consisted of areas remote from each other, divided by fjoed and mountain, and fiercely autonomous.  Christianizing was a means of nationalizing, but it also occurred by duping. Saints blurred as to name and mythological or doctrinal origin, customs slid back and forth, Jesus hanging on the Cross for his few hours was encouraged to be seen as Odin hanging on the Tree for his 9 days. Concepts mattered, ideas, not fact.

The initials refer to two marriages, one to a pastor (did Lutherans continue to call them priests after Catholic times?), one to a curate see

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