Urnes Stave Church (World Heritage)

By | September 1, 2021

The stave churches were built in the early days of Christianization in Scandinavia, mostly between the 12th and 13th centuries. Urnes Stave Church is the oldest surviving church of its kind and is an outstanding example of Scandinavian church architecture. It combines the traditions of the Celts and Vikings with Romanesque stylistic devices in terms of construction and the art of carving. Check sportsqna to see Norway Landscapes.

Urnes stave church: facts

Official title: Urnes Stave Church
Cultural monument: probably the oldest rod building in Norway; Attempt to create the illusion of a Romanesque columned basilica, original shape with six masts along the long walls; a church without a tower until the 18th century, which had two previous buildings in the same place
Continent: Europe
Country: Norway, Sogn og Fjordane
Location: on a headland in the elongated Lusterfjord
Appointment: 1979
Meaning: a particularly remarkable testimony to Scandinavian wooden architecture and the combination of Celtic art, Viking tradition and the Romanesque room concept

Urnes stave church: history

Middle of the 11th century first church building
2nd half of the 12th century Reconstruction and partly new construction
End of the 12th century Carving of decorative spirals and dragon creatures
13th century Crucifixion group on the altar
around 1600 rectangular choir extension
1704 Bell tower
1880 Purchase by Fortidsminneforeningen
1956/57 Archaeological excavations and investigations, discovery of a coin from the time of Harald Hardrada, which was minted between 1046 and 1066

Inspired by Nordic shipbuilding

The myth of stone construction is deeply rooted in Western European civilization as the original concept of durability. Wood, on the other hand, is the material of makeshift solutions and emergency shelters. Even a wooden church, that seems to contradict the eternal claim of the sacred building. Thanks to their indestructible wooden mechanics and perfectly balanced statics, the Norwegian stave churches are undoubtedly masterpieces of architecture.

As a legacy of the northern European civilization, whose culture is based on wood as a material, the few surviving examples are far more than a footnote to the art history of Scandinavia. Comparable to the Romanesque stone building that was developing at the same time, the best was just good enough for the artistic furnishings. The superior Nordic shipbuilding inspired the ingenious construction of the framework; Portals and important wooden panels of the outer skin, on the other hand, were decorated with lavish abundance of exquisite carvings. These representations, made with the highest technical perfection, followed seamlessly from the waking traditions of Celto-Germanic decorative art. Wooden stave churches, the avant-garde of a new religiosity, therefore turned out to be difficult to conquer bastions on the retreat routes of Germanic sense of form. The course of some of the bloody war campaigns of the Vikings in the early Middle Ages gradually confronted even the wildest hordes of baggy Norsemen with the reality of the post-Roman-Christian West. At first, of course, continental Europe seemed to be helplessly at the mercy of the Scandinavians’ attacks, which were carried out with maritime high technology, ruthless terror, but also with seemingly modern long-distance trading strategies. The reciprocal influence nonetheless set in unstoppable, beyond all cultural barriers. The marauding adventurers from the far north were quickly integrated into the complex cultural power structure of the continent as a predictable and unpredictable factor.

Christianity, the real integrative force of the early Middle Ages, has meanwhile also found its way into the remote Norwegian fjords and specifically seized the pagan places of worship. Hundreds of unique church buildings were built as early as the early 11th century, combining the coarse block construction of the wood-rich East and the frame construction, which is more elegant in every respect, with upright mortised planks. None of these early churches survived, but the basic patterns of their construction and some precious relics have been immortalized in the subsequent buildings.

The simple church of Urnes, although expanded and stylistically redesigned in many ways, is an outstanding example of the constructive breakthrough of this time. The post structure of the Germanic longhouses set into the ground was abandoned in favor of a solid base frame with upright “masts”. Solid transverse reinforcements and the typical vertical planking of the outer walls resulted in a permanently weather-resistant ensemble of high aesthetic quality, even under extreme climatic loads. In the characteristically gloomy interior, carved cube capitals and profiled round arcades sometimes evoke the impression of the Romanesque stone churches, which are obviously admired as exemplary.

However, such concessions to the architectural taste of the time could not save the majority of stave churches. Most of them did not fall victim to the ravages of time, but to the reform zeal of a rigorous Protestantism. Last but not least, the almost dismaying ardor and dark, mystical charisma of the prehistoric animal ornamentation, so admired by the present, made the buildings, which by their nature hardly adaptable, seem out of date.

Urnes Stave Church (World Heritage)