Gothic cathedral in wood
The Heddal stave church is a wood structure church build around 1200 AC - and the largest of the 28 wooden churches still existing in Norway. These churches were built at the end of the Viking reign, as missionaries were christianizing Norway, until the XIV c. when the plague put a halt to their construction.
With the most impressive and distinctive exterior, Heddal Stave church is built in the form of a stave basilica with 12 large and 6 smaller support posts. Outside, plenty of wood carvings decorate the walls and doors.
Heddal Church interior is also a medieval masterpiece with later contributions.
Inside the church you can see a beautiful wooden carved chair, dated around 1200. The alter-piece is produced by an unknown artist in 1667. The wall-painting that you see today is dated 1668.
Underneath, on the west wall, there are remains of the original painting from about 1300. On the wall in the exterior passage, you can see Runes inscribed.
Until 1850 the church bells hung in the church. They were moved to the bell-tower outside because the burden on the structure of the church became too great, as the centuries passed.
Structure of a Stave Church
A stave church is classified based on the very special building construction. On a stone foundation there is a frame of ground sills, into which the large pillars, the staves, are inset. On the top of the staves there is another frame of sills, the head beams, and on those, the roof construction is placed.
The wall boards rest in a groove in the ground sills, while the top fits into a groove in the head beams. Only wooden nails - no metal nails - were used when constructing this church. The outside of the church was protected by tar. The church is now regularly tarred by hand, with tar produced in the old way.
Materials Used to Construct the Stave Church
The material used in the construction of these churches is invariably pine. Oak is only found in the south of Norway, and the beech in but one place, at Laurvik.
All of the parts exposed to the weather have been coated over and over again with tar of a dark red color, and this, added to the age of the timber, gives to these churches a rich, dark brown color in contrast with the surrounding scenary and houses.
The Stave Churches are richly decorated with carvings. In virtually all of them the door frames are ornamented and lavishly carved.
Dragons are abundant, lovingly executed and transformed into long-limbed creatures of fantasy, here and there entwined with tendrils of vine, with winding stems and serrated leaves. The elaborate designs are executed with supreme artistic skill. The stave church doorways are, therefore, among the most distinctive works of art to be found in Norway.
The external appearance of most of these stavkirken is at least exotic; it reminds us of an oriental building: roof rises above roof, and quaint dragon heads adorn the gables. These in many instances, resemble the prows of the ancient Viking ships.
In 1979 the Urnes stave church was listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List of most valuable cultural memorials in the world. But all the 28 stavkirken set is the most rich and exquisite historic heritage of Norway.