A Brief History Of The Stave Churches From Norway

The Norwegian stave churches (or singularly known in Norwegian as ‘stavkirke’) are doubtlessly some of the most illustrative examples of Norway’s history and culture that date back to the Middle Ages. They have been classified as historical monuments in Norway.

Photograph depicting an example of a traditional Norwegian stave church. Image source: www.pixabay.com

Once common throughout much of Northern Europe, the stave churches gradually disappeared, with only about 30 of them having been preserved to date. 28 of these architectural structures are located in Norway, while two additional ones can be found in Sweden and Poland respectively.

A Norwegian stave church with the mountains in the background. Image source: www.pixabay.com

The stave churches from Norway were mostly built between the early 12th century up to the mid 14th century. They were initially Roman-Catholic but turned Evangelical Lutheran in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.

In medieval times, very much unlike neighbouring Sweden, the stave churches were not considered obsolete in Norway and as such most of them were preserved quite well until the 19th century. It is assumed that the total number of stave churches which were built in Norway during the Middle Ages amounts to as much as 1,000.


Heddal stave church, as photographed sometime during the late 19th century or at the round of the 20th century. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

These stave churches were built entirely of wood, using the post and lintel architectural technique. This technique consists in placing heavy horizontal elements on vertical supports with considerable spaces between.

They are closely related to other medieval wooden constructions, namely the post churches and the palisade churches, but both are often regarded as proper stave churches. This stems from the fact that the construction of the stave churches initially commenced from already built palisades.

The reconstructed Vang stave church which was transferred to Karpacz, south-western Poland. Image source: www.pixabay.com

The reconstructed Vang stave church which was initially transferred to Karpacz, south-western Poland. Image source: www.pixabay.com

There are two main types of Norwegian stave churches that can be identified as follows:

  • Single nave church or Type A
  • Church with raised roof or Type B

Among the first category there are most notably the stave church in the Reinli village or the one at Hedalen, both situated in the Sør-Aurdal municipality, Oppland county.

Among the second category, the most representative are probably the Kaupanger stave church and the Borgund stave church, both from Sogn og Fjordane county.

The only Norwegian stave church which was designated as cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1979 is the 12th century Urnes stave church from Sogn og Fjordane county. It is an eclectic medieval architectural structure which blends Celtic, Norse and Romanesque influences altogether.

Nowadays, the stave church became quite popular around the world and many replicas can be visited, most notably Norway Pavilion at Epcot, near Orlando, Florida. This is a replica of the original Borgund stave church.

Documentation sources and external links:

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1 Response to A Brief History Of The Stave Churches From Norway

  1. Kathleen Groh says:

    My son will be coming to Norway and would like to know about the oldest Stave church in Norway. His grandfather was Franz Peder Arvold. His great grandfather was Carl Olaf Arvold. We have been told that there are Arvold’s in the area of Bergen Norway and a Stave Church is on the property. Would you have any information that would be helpful for them? Thank you.

    Kathleen Groh

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