Nestled in the quaint village of Borgund, Norway sits a nearly 900-year-old historic building—The Borgund Stave Church. This impressive structure was built in 1180 and dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. Remarkably well-preserved, this landmark is considered one of the most distinctive stave churches in Norway. A stave church is a medieval wooden church. There are only 28 remaining stave churches in Norway, and Borgund is among the best-preserved.
In 1153, Scandinavia was slowly embracing the beliefs promoted by early Christianity. As seen in European cities, religious organizations were building large and opulent churches that would reflect God’s greatness. However, the Norse lived in tiny rural communities, which led to smaller, practical churches, but Borgund Stave Church is impressive in its own right with its distinctive and surreal construction.
Stave churches showcase Norway’s Viking era when skilled carving techniques were developed to combine art and woodworking. The portrayal of animals such as dragons and serpents in the carvings is representative of medieval Viking artistry. The roof gables depict four carved dragon heads, swooping from the carved roof ridge, typical of the carved dragon heads found on many Norse ships. Similar gable heads also appear on small bronze houses typical in Norway in this period.
Norway has a long history of wood construction, probably due to vast forests and rough terrain. It was one of the few countries that refused to build their early churches out of stone and instead chose wood. The stave churches were constructed from a particular type of fir called malmfuru, which was extremely hard wood and abundant.
Fortunately, the Norse knew that in order to stand the test of time, the church needed to be built on a stone foundation. Unlike other wooden buildings, which lasted for a few decades at most, this construction technique preserved the material for centuries.
Borgund Stave Church is Norway’s most visited stave church. If it looks familiar, that could be because’s been copied and several replicas exist around the world, including Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, South Dakota.
No longer regularly used for church functions, Borgund is now a museum run by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments and is a popular tourist destination. Tours are conducted daily.
For more information, visit www.stavechurch.com.