Urnes Stave Church – 1130 AD

Urnes Save ChurchThe wooden church of Urnes Stave Church stands in the natural setting of Sogn og FjordaneCounty, Western Norway. It was built around 1130 AD or shortly thereafter, and is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions and Romanesque spatial structures.

Since 1881, it has been owned by Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments, and the church has not been in ordinary use since. In 1979, the UrnesStaveChurch was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The church still stands in its original location, and it is believed to be the oldest of its kind.

Archaeological investigations have discovered the remains of one, or possibly two, churches on the site prior to the current building. The excavations uncovered holes in the ground from earth-bound posts which had belonged to an early post church, a type of church with walls supported by short sills inserted between free-standing posts. It is not known if this church had a raised roof above the central space of the nave like the present church. The earliest possible dating of this church is the early eleventh century.

The North Wall

Urnes Save Church IconographyThere have been numerous attempts to interpret the decoration (iconography) of the church’s most remarkable part, the old portal in the northern wall. The images are generally considered to represent a snake curling upwards. At the lower end there is an animal with four feet biting the snake.

A common interpretation of this scene is that it portrays the eternal fight between good and evil. The animal is widely believed to be a stylised lion. In Christian iconography the lion is a symbol of Christ, fighting the evil symbolized by the snake, a common representation of Satan.

On the other hand, it is possible that the decoration of the earlier church featured some scenes from Norse mythology, a likely reason for its premature reconstruction in the 12th century. In this context, the animal may be interpreted as Níðhöggr eating the roots of Yggdrasil. The intertwined snakes and dragons represent the end of the world according to the Norse legend of Ragnarok.


Text modified by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Source: UNESCO, Wikipedia

Photos by: Riksantikvaren

Categories: Culture, History, Travel, Western Norway

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