Saturday, January 14, 2012

Heddal Stave Church

Heddal Stave church
[from: Wikipedia]

Recently Marit and Bjørn Arnhaug sent me via email some pictures of the inside of the Heddal Stave church that Bjørn’s brother had sent him. The photographs he shared are so beautiful that I wanted to share them too.

The Heddal Stave church is the largest stave church in Norway and is what is called a triple nave stave church. This magnificent stave church is located at Heddal near Notodden in Telemark. The church was originally built at the beginning of the 13th century and was restored 1849-51. The restoration was not perfect, however, so another restoration was necessary in the 1950s.

Looking toward the altar.
[photo courtesy of Bjørn Arnhaug]

Close up view of the altar area.
[photo courtesy of Bjørn Arnhaug]

There is an amazing amount of detail in the carvings and paintings found on the altarpiece. The figure of Christ at the top shows him dressed in red robes as he is supposed to be dressed at the Second Coming. The left bottom painting I think may be the Annunciation and the bottom right picture shows his birth; the middle his death with the small inset possibly the Last Supper; and the top his resurrection. The carvings are symmetrical with matching figures on the opposite side—male heads, women, angels, and wings. I think I would need to sit in front of it in person and look for a long time before I would see all that is there and even then I might miss something. It is a beautiful altarpiece. So many pieces like this that we saw in Germany and Holland were gold gilt and were beautiful too but I rather like the painted wood better than all the gold.

Carved chair with a decidedly medieval look
[photo courtesy of Bjørn Arnhaug]

I am guessing but I think the pastor would sit in the chair until it was time for him to address or lead the congregation during the service. This church is a designated Norwegian cultural heritage site so I am unsure if it is still used as a church or if it is like the stave church at Borgund and not used as a church any more just as an historical monument. It does, however, look like it may be used as a church--notice the stand and microphone on the left side of the first interior photo. From these pictures it looks very beautiful inside and out.

Carved crucifix
[photo courtesy of Bjørn Arnhaug]

There is a legend about the construction of the church involving five men who wanted to build the church and a stranger who said he would do it if one of three conditions were met. The choices were to fetch the sun and moon from the sky, forfeit life-blood, or guess the name of the stranger (a troll). One of the men, Raud Rygi, thought it would not be too difficult to guess the stranger’s name before the completion of the building so he agreed to the terms but then the stranger was working so fast it was only going to take three days to finish and Raud feared for his life. You can probably figure out the ending but if you want to read the legend you can find it at The story reminded me a bit of the fairy tale “Rumplestiltskin” making me wonder where these stores come from and just how universal they are.

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