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Norwegian stave churches

Norway is a country full of beautiful scenery and landscapes, which are highlighted by wonderful architecture. Some of the most unique buildings in Norway are the stave churches whose signature wooden facades and elaborate carvings are instantly recognisable. Let’s take a look at the history of stave churches, and highlight some of Norway’s most important ones!
Urnes Stave Church, Espen Mills

What is a stave church?

Stave churches were built in Northern Europe, mostly in the Middle Ages, and are made almost entirely out of wood. While they were once common in north-western Europe, only 30 stave churches now remain. Out of these, 28 are located in Norway.
Evidence has shown that Norway was once home to around 2000 of these fascinating buildings, and with the vast majority of the world’s remaining stave churches being located in Norway, it’s a fantastic place for history buffs. ​
Heddal Stave Church, Johan Berge

What makes a Norwegian stave church unique?

All Norwegian stave churches have corner posts, known as ‘staves’, a timber framework, and planks forming walls standing on sills. These are called ‘stave walls’ and are the reason they are known as stave churches.
All of the doors of the churches as well as tips of roofs are ornately carved with a variety of motifs. They often contain a mixture of Christian and Viking themes including dragons, animals and people.
Borgund Stave Church , Norway
Borgund Stave Church , Øyvind Heen

Norway’s must-see stave churches

Borgund Stave Church

Borgund Stave Church was built around 1180 and is a distinctive landmark in Lærdal. It is dedicated to the Apostle Andrew and boasts some of the finest carvings of any of the stave churches still standing. When you visit, keep an eye out for the elaborate dragons’ heads on its roof.

Hopperstad Stave Church

Dating from around 1130, Hopperstad Stave Church can be found in Vik. It’s one of the two oldest stave churches in existence. The church went through a long period of neglect and was almost lost, but a timely renovation in the 1880s saved it from ruin. It is the only stave church in the world where the original narrow chancel opening has been preserved.
Fantoft Stave Church, Per Nybø

Fantoft Stave Church

Fantoft Stave Church has had a difficult past, with the reconstructed building currently being located in the city of Bergen. It was originally constructed in Fortun in 1150 before being moved to Fantoft in 1883. In 1992, there was a catastrophic fire and it wasn’t until 1997 that the church was fully rebuilt as an exact replica of the original.

Gol Stave Church

Built in approximately 1200, Gol Stave Church is another example of a building that needed some serious care and attention. It was bought by The Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments (Fortidsminneforeningen). They then presented it to the Norwegian king, King Oscar, who paid for its rebuild in 1884. Where parts of the original building were missing or beyond repair, inspiration was taken from Borgund Stave Church.
If you’re a history buff or interested in finding out more about Norway’s cultural history during your trip, these churches should definitely be on your list of places to visit. Whether you like art, architecture, ancient cultures, or simply enjoy looking at beautiful landscapes, these stunning buildings are not to be missed! The stave churches are full of history and will give you a unique insight into the wonderful country of Norway.
Espen Mills

Get to know the Norwegians

The typical Norwegian cherishes nature and embraces the great outdoors. Minimalist in design and lifestyle, they prioritize practicality. Norwegians honor heritage and folklore, fostering a vibrant, inclusive society that blends tradition with a modern, open-minded outlook while embracing sustainability.