Borgund Stave Church; dragons on gables, above the crosses
Dragons on gables and runes on the wood piers. Rooftops and galleries. Old stave churches. The scale shingle pattern may not be original, and this church replaced an earlier structure that had rotted at the pier bases, Earliest churches show a more traditional lateral slat arrangement.
Dragon symbolism, and the Midgard Serpent pervade Norse mythology, and the prows of ships, and its coexistence for a time with Christianity. Even roof shingling resembles what we think of as dragon-style, or at least, Midgard Serpent. Lower tiers on the roofs were easier to reach and knock down the dragons and substitute more ideologically correct forms, when that became required as Christianity demanded conformity. Even these crosses, though, are equal-armed, chubby and lotus-like, not bringing crucifixion to mind. Dragons and serpents and the Norse. See http://www.dragonsinn.net/4_nordic.htm See FN 1. Saint George -- born in Turkey of a Palestinian mother in the 3d Century -- kept the idea going as well, see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/apr/23/hewasbornin/ Worldwide dragons.
The dragons at Borgund are stylized, not naturalistic, even assuming there is a "natural" model. This is from the small museum here: the dragon is abstract, intricate, strong with interlacing curves, openwork designs themselves resembling serpents.
The best angle for a photograph is past the stone wall, into the graveyard. Count six tiers of roofs, including the top. The lower level is over a walk-abuut gallery, open to the air and light. Inside is dark.
Religious symbols: when they die off, the triumphant ideology loses. Tolerance dies with the removal of past icons. Look to older structures, less tainted such as Borgund, to find what has been lost elsewhere, when dogmatic austerity and control needs of the institutional powers took over.
2.1 Up on the rooftop, cupola.
Our photo is at the wrong angle to show the weathervane. It turns out to be a rooster, see the original below, now in the small museum. A replica must be on top.
Weathercock. Weathervane. Roosters. Is this the resurrection symbol, or not? Or to remind us of Peter's thrice betrayal? Its overall shape is visible if you watch closely on this video. Most camera shots leave out the rooster. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGArdEYcSu0
We are wrong on both counts. The rooster is very Norse.
Borgund Stave Church, roof tier topper. Rooster, not a dragon. Laerdal, Sognefjord, Norway
2.2 The rooster in Norse myth: roosters give warnings separately to the giants, the dead, and the gods, that the end is nigh. Christian rough equivalent of the Apocalypse.
a. The red rooster named Fjalar was known to be beautiful, and the name mean "All-knower." At the final battle, the end of the world (Ragnarok) which may be roughly like the Christian Armageddon, it is Fjalar who will warn the giants, see http://www.viking-mythology.com/ragnarok.php/.
b. Another red rooster in Niflheim, the cold and dark world of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel, will warn the dead that Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, is here; and
c. Yet a third red rooster, named Gillinkambi, but with a golden comb, will warn the gods in Asgard, one of the nine worlds and where the Aesir tribe of gods reside that Ragnarok is here.
- Question: Was the rooster allowed to remain because it was inaccessible, or because of popular demand, or because it was given Christian meaning, or was it enough that the crosses on the lower levels identified the new Christianity.
- Roosters have a long history on rooftops, see from BC to now at http://www.weathervanesplus.com/history.html
- This rooster, shown identifying the Tingvollost wonderful cheese enterprise (do visit) could either signify farm and rooster, or, as we prefer, Fjalar always alert.
3. Regardless of the rooster, note how the designs of the portals at Borgund reflect the flow of the dragons. And the runes on the upper beam.
Borgund Stave Church, intertwining serpentine designs, recurrent motifs. Laerdal, Norway
Conversion of Norway: Coexistence of symbolisms
It was not hard to convert Norway. Warlords adopted the new religion and ordered it. There were long periods of coexistence. Some recalcitrants exited stage left to Iceland. Others wanted what was then a reasonably fertile grazing area. See http://thevikingworld.pbworks.com/w/page/6023686/The%20Early%20Settlement%20and%20Trade%20of%20Iceland
Still, many symbols and tales of Christianity echoed in the old Norse stories already familiar. Odin hanging on the tree for nine days seeking wisdom, the snake, the cross form itself, not originally Christian at all. Join in, said the converters. Similarities were like a lure, easing the changeover. Some of the Christian stories and characters indeed resembled the Old Norse. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/religion_01.shtml/. You are like us already. Join with us as we are the new winners, said the new kings with turf in mind, with force and trickery. See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc4.i.ii.xxvi.html
Borgund Stave Church, dragons at the top tiers, crosses beneath. Laerdal at Sognefjord, Norway
The Dragon, the Snake, the Serpent, all had commonalities with Christian stories as well. These were not alien ideas. Saint George helped carry it forward.
The dragon with its extended neck, and serpents twining, striking, hold a prominent place in the world's mythologies, see Dragon at http://www.bartleby.com/81/5323.html/ Dragons and sea serpents and the Midgard Serpent Jormungandr of Norse mythology, encircling the earth. As Apollo overcame a dragon at the place we know in Greece as Delphi, so in one view of religious life, the dragon represents an evil that must be overcome. See http://faculty.arch.utah.edu/miller/Stave%20Churches_001.pdf. To old Norse, the dragon stemmed from the world's beginnings, was close to the view of the sea serpent, http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/J%C3%B6rmungandr.html
- When mainland institutional European Christianity came to Norway, in about 1100, after years of quiet missionary work by Celtic-type priests working in the communities, the start was to order the building of churches. Everybody build. By decree. All over. Up they went, as though by specs. The same craftsmen could have gone from fjord to fjord, and some left their individual mark to show for it.
- Old stave churches have similarities, but many sadly show the neutering effect of austere exteriors, the energy of the original accoutrements long gone. Luckily, although we did not see it in the dark, Odin still stares inside Borgund, see the video above the stories and symbols of the Viking era, including dragons, sea serpents. See the overview of what is left of the old stave churches at http://www.arild-hauge.com/echurch.htm