- Norwegian Stave Church
During the middle ages a unique style of wood construction architecture briefly sprang up in Norway, called the Stave church. This building type displayed a mastery of wooden craft from the Norwegians, and moreover illustrated their conversion from Paganism to Christianity.The main concept of the Stave design was for secular purposes and it revealed simple yet lavish grandeur. It is believed that Stave churches were created between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Approximately 750years ago there were more than one thousand Stave churches standing. Since then, many have perished, however the ones that remain have been typically renovated in the 1600’s, 1800’s and again in the mid to late 1900’s.
Astonishingly, although Stave churches are made almost completely of wood there are still thirty standing.Wood was the primary construction material used because of tradition and availability.Despite the fact that stone is a safer and a more durable material, the Norwegians mastered and utilized the skill of wooden church building. After time and failed attempts, the artful craftsman realized that in order to prevent rotting it was necessary to place the wooden foundation beams on top of stone instead of directly on the ground. Additionally, to prevent rotting they would let the wood age before building so that the sap would harden and they would cover it with tar. These steps were fundamental in making the wood durable for over 800 years.
For stability Stave Churches follow a post and beam system with many planks and a stone foundation. These buildings are made with horizontal and vertical layering of wood to create a strong structure. During construction, the wood was carved, cut and nailed with wooden pegs because there were no saws or metal nails during this era.Since their creation the Stave churches that were not destroyed in fires or from age have been renovated and changed over time. Most have been turned into cruciform churches, expanded and changed in the interior.
Each Stave Church relates to its area and is distinct compared to its country landscape. The contrast from extravagant church building amongst modest mountain village setting makes the Stave Churches appear even more ornate and architecturally crafted. The emphasis of nature versus building especially highlights the skilled woodwork used in creating this church style. Stave churches represent multiple massing,irregular forms, and no central focus because of the stacked roof, elaborate shingles, turrets and overall ornate exterior appearance. The wood varies from very detailed to plain and pure boards. The way the wood is formed makes the church appear as if it was created with other materials than solely wood.
The interior space relates to the exterior through the religious art themes and purely stave post and lintel style. The inside plan is simple, first an entry,then an open space for watching religious services, and finally an alter behind. On the walls are Christian paintings depicting religious scenes and also Viking animal like carvings. This blends the Pagan past with Christian present of the country. In the design of the churches, arches, beamed rafters,triangles, and squares are included. Special attention is spent on the geometry and form of these churches. Inside the light is very dim because the light source comes from small windows set up high in the church. This gives a further sense of the eerie, middle ages theme.
The Norwegian Stave church style has been duplicated in various forms throughout the world, still no examples show this type of architecture finer than the 30 or so lasting originals. These Christian churches were displayed throughout the countryside of Norway and very well could have been throughout Scandinavia. While the specific architects of these churches are unknown, it is assumed that the style came from the Vikings travels and trade and European missionary influences. The wooden stave churches were built for Christian services after Norway converted. Therefore, these buildings represented devotion to God and the design displayed a playful love of life in a harsh middle ages world. Over time, these wooden churches were replaced with more practical stone ones but their unique, ornate, and bold appearance still makes them stand out in the architecture world today.