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Borgund And Stave Churches, Norway


Borgund Stavkirke at Lærdal in Western Norway is the only stave church that has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. The church was pieced together from about 2000 carefully crafted pieces of wood around 1150 and was dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew.

Inside Borgund Stavkirke there is not much ornamentation to be seen. Even the lighting is limited to but a few openings on the walls above our head. There are no pews to sit on or decorations to marvel at.

The exterior, however, id very different. The Borgund stave church is decorated with dragons, depictions of battles, and runic inscriptions. The pulpit is 16th century, there is a free-standing belfry with a bell from the Middle Ages.

Borgund Stave Church in Western Norway

Borgund Stave Church in Western Norway

Stave churches survive in remote, isolated places. The sights were originally chosen on account of their high exposure to create dramatic visual effect.

Borgund Stavkirke, West Door

Borgund Stavkirke, West Door

Borgund Stave Church Timeline

  • 1150, Borgund Stavkirke is built in place of an old rotting church.
  • 1300s, chancel and apse are added to the stave church.
  • 1500s, pulpit and altarpiece are added to the building.
  • 1870, the church surrenders regular service to a new one built nearby.

The exterior of the church is richly adorned with vine-like ornamentation and carvings of battles between dragons and warriors.

Inside Borgund Stave Church, Norway

Inside Borgund Stave Church, Norway

Borgund Stave Church Interior, Norway

Borgund Stave Church Interior, Norway

Borgund Stavkirke, Norge

Borgund Stavkirke, Norge

Construction Of Stave Churches

The wooden wall columns of the earliest stave churches of the 11th century were built directly into the ground. Because moisture in the ground caused them to rot away, they usually lasted less than 100 years.

In later years, builders would set the wooden framework on sills rested on a stone foundation. The whole wooden structure was elevated above ground level thus protected from humidity. This construction technique proved so effective that churches raised in the 12th century survive to this day.

Stave Church Designs

Thirty stave churches remain in Norway, and of them Borgund Stave Church is probably the largest and most decorated. However, all stave churches are simple, small structures with a nave and a narrow chancel.

Borgund Stavkirke boasts a chancel with a distinctive semicircular apse. The division between them is marked by stave posts. The interior is dimly lit, as light can only sieve through from small round windows under the 3-tiered roof, which is crowned by a turret. Stave churches tend to be encircled in an external gallery.

Ornamentation Of Stave Churches

Around 1000, pagan and Christian cultures and beliefs were merged into one. Old temples were destroyed and in their place stave churches were built. In the richly decorated carvings in stave churches, Pagan gods and symbols were represented in disguise along the side of medieval Christian saints.

In Borgund Stavkirke, the West door frame designs are particularly elaborate showing off the skill of the carpenters who embellished them with intricate carvings. The most readily available wood from pine trees was commonly used. Branches and bark were removed from the trees, which were then left to dry out before being chopped down, making the wood was more weather-proof.

Borgund Stave Church Video

Borgund Stave Church Structure

Borgund Stave Church Structure

Borgund Stave Church Map, Norway

  1. Spire sitting atop the 3-tired roof.
  2. Central tower decorated with dragon heads on the gables meant to cleanse the of the evil spirits of pagan worship.
  3. Windows are simple, circular openings meant to let in a moderate amount of light.
  4. The alterpiece, almost the only decoration inside the church, was added in 1654.
  5. Crosses of St. Andrew border the central nave in the shape of X.
  6. External gallery.
  7. Entrance.
  8. West door.
  9. The gables above apse towers and doorways are decorated with crosses.
  10. Twelve staves in the central part of the nave to support the roof and give an elevated sense of height.
  11. Main roof covered in pine shingles.
Olav Haraldsson's death in battle.

Olav Haraldsson's death in battle.

King Olav The Holy

Olav Haraldsson was crowned king of Norway in 1016.

He converted the country to Christianity, destroyed pagan monuments and built stave churches in their place. He was slain in a battle in 1030.

One year later his body was exhumed and King Olav was declared a saint.

Viking Dragon And Serpent Designs

Viking Dragon And Serpent Designs

Viking Heritage

Rich embellishment in stave churches comes from Norway's Viking age.

In that era, skilled carving techniques were developed to combine art and woodworking in marriage to construct monuments and memorials.

Dragons and serpents were common designs in these carvings as elements of Viking art.


Tanja Wanderlust from planet earth on September 02, 2012:

Nice article. I have been there just a couple of days ago. I hitchhiked from GOL to Bergen and stopped on the way. The landscape is amazing. I tell everybody to go there.

About stave churches: The fun thing is that the stave churches are full of runic inscriptions :) And they are ORIGINALS! Think about it. Some of them tell us about hostoric events. almost 1000 years old...

alinamassy from India on February 06, 2012:

This is an awesome hub and Very interesting. Thanks for this, Voted up

Guyene Jackson from USA on February 05, 2012:

What is amazing church the seven natural wonder full place

ayliss08 from Guangzhou, Guangdong, China on February 05, 2012:

wow, really beautiful and impressive! Thanks, and voted up!

wmhseo from Canada on February 05, 2012:

The Churches in Norway based on the photo and article you have post are unique.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 04, 2012:

Voted beautiful and interesting. Thanks for the introduction to such beautiful workmanship and all that is represented in them.

Peter Allison from Alameda, CA on February 04, 2012:

This is an awesome hub. Very interesting! I wasn't familiar with the style but you've really taught me a lot.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 04, 2012:

Very interesting hub regarding this stave church in Norway. Going to add it as a link to my Little Norway hub where there is a similar church...although the location is in Wisconsin. Voted up and will also share this as a tweet and FB. Thanks! Enjoyed this!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on February 04, 2012:

What a beautiful, interesting and architecturally original church. I have not visited Norway and, therefore, know nothing about stave churches. This one is beautiful and I hope to see it someday. Thank you for the diagram of the church that explains each part of it. I can't get over the tiered roof. The carvings are exceptional and beautiful.

Thank you for some rich Norwegian history and culture.

Nell Rose from England on February 04, 2012:

Hi, what an amazing church! it looks like something out of a childrens fairy story! I did wonder when you mentioned dragons whether it had Viking influence, wonderful! rated up and shared! nell

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on February 04, 2012:

I can just picture life in that era. How beautiful that church must have looked then. It is so marvelous we can still enjoy it so far removed from that era and the church is so well preserved!

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on February 04, 2012:

Interesting hub about a fascinating church! It is great to see that it is so well preserved considering the many years. I like historical buildings and I would love to see this church! You did a great and informative hub! Voted up and shared!


Madeleine Salin from Finland on December 17, 2011:

Interesting hub about an interesting church. :)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on December 14, 2011:

Thanks for stopping in and reading, John and Steph!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on December 14, 2011:

What an amazing church! I've never been to Norway, but even more intrigued to put it on my list of places to travel. I'm with John (above) - you have a new follower! Best, Steph

John Roberts from South Yorkshire, England on December 14, 2011:

Nice Hub, love the architecture! You've earned a follower for giving such an interesting read ^_^

Haunty (author) from Hungary on December 14, 2011:

I think the same, hush4444. It's impressive that this building is made from wood and is almost a thousand years old.

I agree, dcrossrclaw. I think it's one of the top places to visit, not just because of the stave church, but the surroundings are also amazing.

I love anything that's made from wood. Thanks for stopping in, Claudia.

Ardie, that's a good point. Beauty on the outside, nothing on the inside. So shallow it's almost a metaphor of mine. That might be the reason that I like it. :)

Sondra from Neverland on December 14, 2011:

Wow, this is a beautiful building - on the outside anyway. I love complex architecture!

Claudia Tello from Mexico on December 12, 2011:

I had never heard of Stave Churches, how unique and beautiful they are! Thanks for sharing.

dcrossrclaw on December 12, 2011:

really nice architecture! would like to get there someday to see these structures personally ;)

hush4444 from Hawaii on December 12, 2011:

What a fascinating church! I don't think the Norse get enough credit for their architecture and art. Thank you so much for this beautiful hub.