Monday, March 10, 2014

Borgund Stave Church, Laerdal. Interior dim, decorative. Saint Andrew.

1.  The X.  Symbols. Ask about X because the form appears to be more than for structural strength in the stave churches, the medieval wooden churches on wooden piers (that mostly had to be rebuilt after fires, pier rot). 

At Borgund, a controlled row of ornamental X's appear inside the main entrance. The church is dedicated to Saint Andrew, who was (tradition? real?) crucified with the cross on its side, so the ros of X's are probably that. The coloration is off here because it was so dark inside, that the wood appears light because of the exposure. Some form of bracing would have been needed, however, so the design is not just decorative, or evocative.

  • Other choices? The X is not a letter in indigenous words in Norway, where the Latinized form of sounds has been in use since 1917. There are, however, 29 letters, including the conjoined ae, the o with a backslash through,and an additional a or A with a little circle (like a degree) on top. There are also "diacritical marks" over other letters in something called the Nynesk variant. Those are accents acute and grave, and the circonflex. Now we know. *
2.  Little natural light.  The inside is dark, dark.  An outer gallery, roofed, keeps it so.

The altarpiece is 17th Century.
3.   Ceiling strut-work, like a ship.

The second tier inside is not a gallery. For a full description of the structure's elements, inside and out, a quick look at Wikipedia at will introduce  the architectural terms like scissor beams, trusses, pincer beams, carved buttresses and knee joints, ridgecrests, and "openwork vine and vegetal repeating designs." .

4.  Graffiti, Is that graffito to the right, above eye level, at the doorway? Is it a stick figure, perhaps holding a shield there to the right arm facing it, or a combination of runes? 

Runes probably not, because the top crossbar is straighter than the angles on many runes, just by a fast look, see  There have been changes, but no major reconstruction. Even so, someone could well leave a mark of his own, inside as well as outside, see history of this church at

5.  Repeating vine designs, serpentine, animated

Many of the forms look animated, with eyes, beaks, suggesting the old Norse serpent Jormundgandr, the Midgard Serpent who grew so large he could encircle the earth and bite his own tail.  In early days, before all the dogma and rules, old ways could and did coexist with the new.  Perhaps that could have continued, to the benefit of all, if the Plague had not hit in the 1300's, killing off 40-50% of the population, see  By the time the fevers broke, the culture had been weakened by the loss, and it was not difficult for heavy-handed institutions of church and throne to take over with their creeds and exclusions, all as they wished.  Is that so? 

Why take all these pictures of old carved wood? For me, I would rather gaze at unending, flowing animated poetry in carving, as a form of worship in itself, than at some staid dead face of anybody staring me to death.

6.  Migration of art ideas

The designs indeed look Celtic, as on old Irish monuments. Are these forms really so universal, or did one bring the idea to the other?  Some track the Tree of Life idea, a "first legend", back to the Near East and elsewhere, showing the migration of those early peoples north, see are similar questions as to the standing stones in Norway:  an import by earlier peoples?

Horror vacui -- fear of spaces, so that the design, patterns and figures must cover all.  This is a concept adapted by Muslim art, where the designs cannot be representational; to Celtic, to modern art, see  Send thanks to the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Monuments:  This stave church is preserved by that society, the Fortidsminneforeningen.

7.  Portal carvings, inside and outside


* WWII Norwegian symbolism:  nothing to do with Borgund, but worth recording.  The paperclip became a symbol of the resistance, see -- on lapels, as bracelets, as well as binding things of paper together

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