By: Hunter Wilson
The religion of Christianity reached the borders of Norway around the year 1000 A.D. Once Christianity became more prominent, Stave Churches began appearing throughout the land. These churches contain a rich history that is filled with mythology and traditional craftsmanship. Stacked, gabled roofs sit atop the dark wooden framing that contains interesting joints. All of this creating strong and rigid structures that have survived Norway’s conditions for nearly one thousand years. Only around thirty of these structures still stand to this day and have become a popular destination for visitors. Visitors are attracted by their unique exterior and intricate mythological detailing.
Around the mid-1300s, the Black Death struck Norway causing mass disease. It is believed that nearly 800 to 1,200 stave churches existing throughout Norway. A few of these churches also reached the lands of Denmark and Sweden. With the devastation of the Black Plague, stave church construction came to a halt. Why the art and technique of the stave church disappeared is still in question. What followed was a method of wood construction very similar to the American western log cabin. Notched-log construction, as is normally called, was proven not as effective and less stable overall.
It is important to consider the surrounding landscape when admiring these great structures. You will not find these stave churches residing in warm weather or in colorful villages. Rather, these structures rest nestled in the valleys of mountainous Norway. The churches are largely alone when it comes to proximity to civilization. The snowy, icy mountains swallow the vast valley in which most of these churches sit. When viewing the exterior of these stave churches, one can see how the mountains may have been a direct influence on the architecture. Layered gable roofs mimic the peaks of the mountain tops in the distance. Despite the snowcapped mountain ranges in the backdrop, the valleys, themselves, contain blossoms and birch foliage that bloom bright during certain parts of the year. This is the common setting for a majority of these stave churches. On the other hand, a small number of churches either rest on a green hilltop or at the base of a river fjord. But what is interesting is how the architecture shifts depending on the setting.