Norwegian wooden churches on the verge of collapse

The Heddal Stave church still stands tall, but the question remains: for how long? Image: Christian Barth (Wikimedia) CC BY-SA 3.0 NO

In Norway, 28 stave churches are still standing after hundreds of years, but their future looks bleak. As knowledge on how to maintain these wooden buildings through traditional methods is lost, an impressive part of Norse architecture is slowly fading away.

Unique buildings

A stave church has a stone foundation in which the famous timber poles are placed, also known as “stav” in Old Norse. Inside the building is decorated with beautiful wood carvings of saints and animals. No one knows when the Norwegian stave churches were built precisely. However, the largest remaining stave church of Norway, Heddal Stave, was already mentioned in writings in 1315. For the churches to survive this long, Norwegians maintained the buildings through traditional craftsmanship during renovations in the 1950’s. According to ScienceNorway, these methods form an essential part of what makes the churches unique.

The future looks uncertain for the impressive wooden carvings that decorate the interior of the Heddal Stave. Image: Concierge.2C (Wikimedia) CC BY-SA 3.0 NO

Lack of knowledge

In recent years, the maintenance of these structures became a problem since nobody knows how to care for them. People who practised the traditional maintenance methods die of old age without passing on their knowledge to a new generation. Inger Marie Egenberg, head of the Conservation Department at the Archaeological Museum of the University of Stavanger, believes that the preservation of traditional methods enriches the nation’s cultural heritage.

However, authentic resources require a lot of effort to make, such as Norwegian tar made from pine which is used as wood-oil for the poles. ”The Swedes have almost lost this tradition, so they import wood oil from China. It is a factory-made product that may be just as good, but it is not our culture”, says Egenberg.


Time seems to be running out for Norway’s stave churches, as the Heddal Stave almost collapsed a few years ago. The preservation of the churches through modern methods would mean the buildings lose their authenticity as medieval structures. However, letting them decay over time would mean a loss of an impressive part of Norway’s architectural heritage as well. If you want to know more about how stave churches were built, you can check out the video below.

Source: ScienceNorway and Stavkirke

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