Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kaupanger Stave Church; architectural austerity imposed

Kaupanger Stave Church on the Sognefjord represents the pared-down, institutional Christian church that whacked off the unacceptable indigenous culture elements earlier from the 1100's.  Ideology wins. This building looks austere compared to the fully-accoutred churches more off the beaten path that retained the Nordic-tale dragons on eaves, and Nordic Armageddon-warner roosters as weathercocks on top.  See the churches at Borgund and Vik, to see those. 

Then look at Kaupanger.  Are you sad yet?

King Sverre became angered at the town of Kaupanger for its disobedience to his rule and ideological requirements, and burned the town down.  However, the church itself apparently was not burned.  Traces of earlier stave (wooden) churches are beneath the site, and perhaps they merely had collapsed as so many stave churches did with their piers directly in the ground. 

The earliest stave churches seem to have been built almost at the same time, within a few decades of each other in the 12th Century. Then, as I understand it, the Black Death interrupted the entire enterprise, and killed off a third of the population including the artisans and skilled stone and woodworkers, leaving the field open to later firmly institutionalized religious leaders. See

History, musings, about the sterile stave churches as opposed to the stave churches that by their appearances alone exude energy.  See FN 1


FN 1. 
Many of the old stave churches had replaced earlier wooden structures that burned or rotted at the base of the piers. Some later added outside walking or ceremonial procession galleries, covered porches most all around.  Did that ever happen here?  A gallery added a human dimension to the simple structure, I think.  People went here, took shelter here, could relax and talk here.

This church at Kaupanger has been changed many times. Architecture is informative, as it begins and changes.  Architecture can track the course of high spontaneity and enthusiasm and individuality at the beginning, to later forced conformity to an ideology, or the other way.  Ideology in architecture:  watch for it.

In Norway, track the early Christianity in its variations, warlord-nationalistic king phase using the ideology, through the ideological Roman Catholic period, to the course-changing Reformation with its selective austerities.  See Fylkesarkivet at

  • What happened here? The steeple in particular seems out of place, as though popped on top to suddenly declare Reformation.  We looked for the standing stone that is so common at sites that later housed churches, and saw no trace. That may or may not be significant.  Most churches were build on sites already sacred to earlier beliefs. 
  • See discussion re Hore Stave Church, and its siting, at

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