The Gallery, Walkway Runes, Around, Outside
Which old Christian, which recall Indigenous Beliefs
1. The Svalgang.
The gallery is called a svalgang. The covered, open-air gallery around the Borgund church was probably constructed a few centuries after the original structure. The new one here dates from 1150 or so. In Norwegian, this kind of gallery is called a svalgang. Homes and barns also used the architectural technique, a covered porch area, an overhang where windows could be placed deep within, for air when weather was bad, or to allow a walk or sit outside.
The lower roof line in Norway stave churches originally was over a gallery, an outside ambulatory (like a medieval coffee hour?) where folks could circulate, shake off the snow or rain, see a friend. A covered porch extending all around. And there is graffiti there, Borgund Stave Church, Norway, around the gallery.
This stavkirket (languages become familiar -- stave church) now seen here replaced an earlier church wooden structure that was rotting, a common problem with the original constructions, see http://www.stavechurch.com/en/borgund/
The function of the gallery:
The gallery was an added outside ambulatory (like a medieval coffee hour?) where folks could circulate, shake off the snow or rain, see a friend; and scratch in some graffiti du jour. Kilroy, Norse-style. A covered porch extending all around is inviting. And there is graffiti there, Borgund Stave Church, Norway, around the gallery.
It is not clear whether any of the oldest piers could be salvaged and set on stone, and used again. From the outside there are areas of scale-shaped shingles, and these also probably came later. The oldest churches appear to have been horizontal slats-made. Do click on this fine video of the church, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGArdEYcSu0
In order to weatherproof the wood, the people tarred the exterior every four years or so. The galleries served as protection against weather, and to accommodate processions. See http://www.coast-alive.eu/content/borgund-stave-church/ See tarring up close at the Ringebu church here.
The equal-sided cross is not just a Christian symbol, so could represent a variety of ideas. One explanation relates to the purpose of these similar-to-each-other crosses: the crosses marked where the bishop is to cast holy water on each one and consecrate the structure, see http://www.stavechurch.com/en/borgund/, above.
As to runes, one of the rune locations (or is it inside?) says something like "Tor wrote these runes in the evening at the St. Olav’s Mass" and "Ave Maria" but there were only workmen around on ladders inside when we were there and we did not find them. See http://www.arild-hauge.com/echurch.htm/ The only guide when we were there was manning the new visitors' center.
The cross motif is a popular one. Beside it, on the angle, are more runic forms.
Runes are not a language but, instead, an old alphabet form originating with Germanic tribes from as early as the 1st Century. Look up Norwegian runes at http://mylittlenorway.com/2009/06/viking-runes/ Runes easily followed sticks and bones formations (think of our derivation: four uprights and a backslash over all to make a 5) to create often romantic and other everyday commentary. Experts pored over a particular rune set, called the jotunvillur code, and have just cracked it: what they found is in the URL. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/mysterious-900yearold-viking-code-deciphered-to-reveal-kiss-me-love-message-9126344.html
Borgund Stave Church, gallery graffiti, Laerdal NO
Some runes appear to constitute a signature by a craftsman, or a notation of the event, the weather, a comment. For runes, it takes an expert, but the rest of us can enjoy spotting forms at http://www.arild-hauge.com/enruner.htm/ How to know what is old and what is new? That also takes experts. Scroll down to see the evolution of rune forms.
But which are later people scratching their marks. Think subways. Carve in some graffiti du jour. Kilroy, Norse-style.
Some runes appear to constitute a signature by a craftsman, or a notation of the event, the weather, a comment. For runes, it takes an expert, but the rest of us can enjoy spotting forms at http://www.arild-hauge.com/enruner.htm/ How to know what is old and what is new? That also takes experts. Scroll down at that site to see the evolution of rune forms.
3. Why are so few old stave churches left?
The Black Plague in the 1350's stopped all that friendly building of stave churches, see http://www.ingebretsens.com/culture/history/the-stavekirke-norwegian-stave-churches. After the plague subsided, the newly empowered outside institutions had open field. So many old churches had simply burned, or rotted at the piers. Rebuild, redo, put up something else, more fitting to the new European Christian connection. Away with the dragons. Down with so many standing stones originally sanctifying the sites. Etc.