Visit Stave Churches

Stave churches are an important part of Norway’s architectural heritage. Urnes Stave Church in the Sognefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church building. The name is derived from the buildings’ structure of post and lintel construction which is a type of timber framing, where the load-bearing posts are called stafr in Old Norse and stav in Norwegian. Two related church building types are also named for their structural elements, the post church and palisade church, but are often also called stave churches.

Lom Stave Church is one of the biggest and most beautiful stave churches in Norway. It dates back to the 12th century and is still in use. The church is closed during church services. The church in Vågå is also worth a visit.

In and around the Jotunheimen national park you can find a lot of interesting stave churches:

  • Hedal 1225 – 1250 Hedalen in Valdres
  • Hegge 1235 – 1265 Øystre Slidre in Valdres
  • Lomen 1235 – 1265 Vestre Slidre in Valdres
  • Høre 1225 – 1250 Vang in Valdres
  • Øye 1250 – 1300 Vang in Valdres
  • Reinli 1290 – 1320 Reinli in Valdres
  • Borgund 1225 – 1250 Lærdal beside the Sognefjord
  • Urnes 1150 – 1175 Luster beside the Sognefjord
  • Kaupanger 1180 Sogndal beside the Sognefjord
  • Hopperstad 1190 – 1225 Vik beside the Sognefjord
  • Lom 1210 – 1240 Lom
  • Vågå 1100 – 1630 Vågå

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Stave church

Lom Stave Church

Lom stave church is one of the biggest and most beautiful stave churches in Norway. It dates back to the 12th century and is still in use. The churches’ wooden doors and finials are beautifully carved. The decorations feature an intriguing combination of Christian motifs and what is often assumed to be pre-Christian Viking themes with animals and dragons.

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Borgund Stave Church

Built around 1180 and is dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. The church is exceptionally well preserved and is one of the most distinctive stave churches in Norway. Some of the finest features are the lavishly carved portals and the roof carvings of dragons’s heads. The stavchurches are Norway’s most important contribution to world architecture and Norway’s oldest preserved timber buildings. “UNIQUE VIKING FINDS” – new permanent exhibition opening 15th of May. Presenting Viking Finds.

VISITORS CENTRE – The Center offers exhibitions about the history of stave churches in Norway and their role in the Middle Ages. Restaurant, souvenir shop and quiet rom.

The King’s Road across Filefjell

Borgund Stavechurch is situated at The King’s Road across Filefjell. Combine a walk on Vindhellavegen with Sverrestigen for a splendid rounddtrip !(1.5 hour .

It is easy to reach Borgund stavechurch and The King’s Road across Filefjell by public transport (bus) from Lærdal. You can also rent a bike in Lærdal and bike to the church (25 km). Source: Visit Sognefjord AS

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Hedalen Stave Church

The Hedalen Stave Church may be the oldest of its kind in Valdres today. It comprises an unusual amount of catholic items and among these a reliquary. Only a few of these can still be found in Norway.

The church dates back to around 1163, and coins from King Sverre`s era 1177-1202 have been found under the floor. It is in use as a regular parish church.

The west-facing portal features dragon and vine decorations from the late 1100s. These dragons symbolise the evil forces you leave behind before you enter the place of worship.

The reliquary is the most treasured item in the church. It is made out of copper-gilded wood, and dates back to around 1250. The figures featured are Christ, St. Mary, St John, St. Jacob, St. Thomas, St. Olav and St. Peter. Norway has only a few such reliquaries left. Its original reliquary casket is still intact, and is the only one of its kind.

The Hedal Madonna (sculpture of St. Mary, dating back to the mid-1200s, is one of the most stunning pieces of medieval ecclesiastical art in Norway. Source: Valdres Destinasjon

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Lomen Stave Church

Lomen Stave Church is believed to date back to around 1192. The oldest coin found is from King Sverre`s era 1177-1202. In 1750, the church was converted and extended as it had become too small to meet the needs of an increasing population. When the new Lomen Church was completed in 1914, regular use of the stave church ended. Today, it is only used for weddings and church services during the summer season. Wooden sections dating back to the Middle Ages have been stripped down to the woodwork, but post-reformatory parts are still painted. The church, belfry and graveyard are protected. Several medieval portals featuring wood carvings and animal decorations can be found in the church. Of the soapstone font from the Middle Ages, only the base remains. A mediaeval chest leans towards the wall in the choir. It features a magic runic inscription that has almost been rubbed off. The Madonna-head on the altar is a plaster copy of the beautiful original from the 1200s. It was probably once part of a whole figure. Mary has wawy hair and a crown with four points. The original can be found at Valdres Folk Museum in Fagernes.

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Øye Stave Church

Øye Stave Church was probably built towards the end of the 1100s. its original location was in the fields facing Vangsmjøsa. This was an extremely wet area, and during the spring flooding the graves were often be filled with water and stones had to be added to the coffins in order to lower them down.

The church was in a porr state of repair, and it either rotted away or was taken by the wind. 1747 saw the consecration of the new Øye Church. The stave church disappeared.

In th 1930s, work had to be done on the foundations of new Øye Church. Under the church floor, Øye Stave Church was found – 156 pieces in total. No one knows why it was stored here. It was in the end decided to erect the stave church, and it was consecrated in 1965.

Today Øye Stave Church is used for weddings and Midsummer Mass only. The church has a strong Catholic medieval character with a narrow opening to the choir and pews along the walls only. It features copies of two medieval portals (probably from the 1100s) with capitals and numerous animal decorations. The door has a medieval ring handle. On the altar stands a crucifix dating back to the 1200s, featuring a Christ-figure from the 1300s. The wooden baptismal font from the 1300s is quite unique, and one of the pews in the choir may be from the Middle Ages.

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Hegge Stave Church

Hegge Stave Church was built in 1216 and still serves the local parish. A carved gate dating from the Medieval Period gives access to the church and inside original staves with carved face masks decorate the church. On one of the staves you can find a runic inscription. The runic alphabet was the written form of old Norse, the language used by the Vikings. The baptismal fountain is from the 1100s and made of soapstone, a type of metamorphic rock that was heavily used in Norway from the Stone Age and onwards. The altarpiece is from 1782 and was donated by four men from Hegge, as a way of thanking God for having saved them from a storm. While in Gudbrandsdalen to trade livestock, they had been caught in a storm in the mountains. They prayed to God to protect them and promised to repay God by donating the value of a cow to the local Parish if they were to return home alive. They were men of their word and paid for the altarpiece in Gudbrandsdalen and transported it home on a sledge

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Reinli Stave Church

Reinli Stave Church is from around 1326, and the site on which it stands had previously been home to two other churches; the first only left graves behind and the second is believed to have been burned down or demolished.
Reinli is the only Stave Church in Norway to still have all 12 consecration crosses intact. Back in the day, when a church was constructed or heavily altered, a bishop had to consecrate the site to make it into a sacred place so that worship could take place. He would bless the building and anoint it with holy oil 12 times, both inside and outside the building. Each of the spots that were anointed with the sacred oil were marked with the consecration cross. These were originally painted in a red pigment, but over time the pigment has faded. In Reinli the consecration crosses have been repainted black. The altarpiece is a Medieval style triptych, painted in the 1890s and 1920s. A triptych is classic Christian art, and a typical standard for altar paintings from the Medieval Ages and onwards. It is divided into three panels physically hinged together, and connected by the images on the panels and the story they tell.
This parish church is only used during summer.

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Kaupanger Stave Church

Kaupanger Stave Church was the third church built on this site, and dates back to 1140. It stands out from other stave churches in Norway due to its small size and small number of posts or “staves”; it has 22 posts, is 102 square meters and can seat 165 people. It also has significantly fewer carvings and decorations on the walls. This results in a larger sense of height when one enters the church, which is why it is considered a cathedral among stave churches.
The first stave church on this site was constructed between 1000 and 1050, which was right after Christianity was starting to gain ground in Norway. Christianity was brought to western Norway in the 9th century by missionaries from the British Isles, and to eastern Norway by German and Friesland ones. They were either monks, converted Vikings or bishops. Norwegian kings, especially King Olav Haraldsson, played and important role in converting the Norwegian people. His methods of conversion (harsh and violent), and his death followed by a series of supernatural events that eventually led to him being declared a saint, were some of the pivotal moments in the Christianisation process of the Norway. Towards the end of the 12th century the Christian church had a firm and stable foothold in Norway.
The church is in continuous use as a parish church.
The stave church and Kaupanger Manor is closely related. Archeological excavations revealed that the farm can be traced back to at least 1800 BC. What the farm looked like in the beginning is unknown. From the Iron Age, archeological traces indicate that the farm was among the bigger farms in the area.

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Urnes Stave Church

Urnes Stave Church was built around 1130 and is the oldest stave church in Norway. It is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Samples from the base timbers reveal that it was felled at some point between 1129 and 1131, but the distinctive carvings on the north portal are from an older church; two previous churches stood at this site, the last is believed to have been constructed in the second half of the 11th century. Parts of this building have been integrated into the present church; a portal, exterior planks and a corner stave, decorated with superb carvings that have been designated the Urnes style. The stave churches are unique and are Norway's most important contribution to world architecture. Urnes Stave Church, which is owned by the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments, was added to the World Heritage List in 1980.

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Hopperstad Stave Church

Hopperstad Stave Church was built around 1130, and significantly renovated in 1877. It is considered one of the oldest stave churches still in existence.
This church as endured periods of decay and went through rigorous renaissance in the 1880’s by the architect Peter Blix, brought about by cultural conservationists. The restoration was heavily inspired by similar churches such as Borgund. It is today owned by National Trust of Norway (Fortidsminneforeningen).
Hopperstad Stave Church is the only church where the original narrow chancel opening is preserved. In the Middle Ages, openings with small arches were added on either side of the narrow chancel arch.

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Vågå Stave Church

Vågå Stave Church dedicated to Saint Peter and is from the 12th century. In 1630 it was moved from its original location to the present one and converted into a cruciform church. When constructing stave churches, materials such as wood and stone from other older buildings were reused. The building of Vågå church was no different and has many materials from a previous stave church on the same site. Archeological foundings show that even in the pagan times, this was a site of worship.

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Høre Stave Church

Upon the revelation of a unique runic inscription in the pulpit, describing the tale of how and why the church was built, it has been established that the church was constructed around 1179. The information in the runic inscription matches the legend of the battle of Kaøvskinnet in 1179. The story has it that King Sverre Sigurdsson came through Valdres in 1177 escaping King Magnus Erlingsson. Elling, the Kvie Lendmann (feudatory), had joined King Sverre in his fight against King Magnus and his father the Earl Erling Skakke. When Erling fell in the battle at Kalvskinnet in Nidaros (Trondheim), Elling and his brother Audun decided to build Høre Stave Church as the runic inscriptions show: "In the summer of which the brothers Elling and Audun cut (timber) to this church, Erling (fell) in Nidaros".
There is reason to believe that there resided another smaller church at the site before the raising of the current one, indicated by the discovery of an old coin dating back to from around 1100. An extension was built in 1822, and today it serves the community as a regular parish church.
Høre Stave Church is decorated with dragon and lion carvings from the Medieval Period, featuring two portals. The original ridge turret has been placed by the entrance of the graveyard. On the neighboring farm lived Gyda from Kvie, daughter of the petty King Eirik of Hordaland. Legend has it that she was indeed the one who encouraged Harald Hårfagre to unite Norway towards the end of the 800s. Brought up at Kvie, a manor farm in Valdres, she declined his initial marriage proposal and made him promise not to cut his hair or shave until he had united the country. When he had done what she asked, Gyda accepted his hand in marriage.

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