Monday, 28 March 2016

Borgund Stave Church – a Wooden Jewel

Borgund Stave Church (Borgund stavkirke) is one of the oldest wooden-framed churches located in the municipality of Lærdal in Sogn og Fjordane county. In Norway, there were built more than 1500 wooden churches, but only 28 of them survived to the present days. 

Borgund stavkirke, Norway

Borgund stavkirke was constructed supposedly in 1150-80 in the name of St. Andrew the First Called. For some parts of the church ash was used as a construction material – a sacred tree in Germanic and Norse mythology. Its mythological prototype – Yggdrasil ash tree – was a connection between Asgard, the sky, Midgard, the Earth, and Hel, the kingdom of the dead. Valhalla, home of Norse gods and heroes who perished in a battle, was built around that ash-tree. 

Borgund stave church

You can find the symbols of St. Andrew in the churches interior: section of bars in the choir loft (upper galleries) were made in the form of the X-shaped cross of this saint. However, Borgund stavkirke features four carved dragon-heads on the roof ridges as well. On the western portal, next to the iron door-handles with multiple snakeheads, you can see runic inscriptions, presumably carved to protect the doors from enemies. All these testify that ancient builders skillfully intertwined pagan and new, Christian, concepts and images. 

Roof ridge, Borgund stave church

Metal was not used during the construction (we can see similar method in the Russian North, for example in Kizhi). The church comprises more than 2 thousand details. The robust frame was built on the ground and then raised vertically with the help of long poles. 

Hundreds years ago, the interior and the facades of the stavkirke were brightly decorated – the remains of paint can be found on some wooden details. In the middle of the XX century, Borgund stavkirke was conserved with resin compositions and considerably blackened as a result. 

Borgund stavkirke, Norway

Except for the color, this church managed to survive without major changes in technology or decorations. That is truly unique for the Norwegian wooden churches. 

Borgund stave church was built on the place of the elder church: fragments of the building were found under the XII-century floor. In 1877, Borgund stavkirke was bought by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments (Foreningen til norske fortidsminnesmerkers). 

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