Heddal Stavkyrkje
scenery on the road between Skien and Notodden, Norway
more scenery
one of countless food storage houses (stabbur) we saw everywhere
when I dream of Norway I see many birch trees
Heddal Stave Church in Notodden
memorial to Olea Crøger

Olea Crøger (1801-1855) was the daughter of a pastor from Heddal Stave Church, known for collecting Norwegian folk music and folklore.
the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1242
on a headstone in the churchyard
in the cemetery
the west side of the church, and main entrance

After the Reformation alterations to the church were slowly made. The date of the painting showing the crucifixion of Jesus by an unknown artist is 1667. The one above it, of Christ rising from his tomb, was painted by Lars Osa about 1908.
above the altar

The Heddal portals are a mixture of fauna and floral ornamentation. The western portal is dominated by leaf carvings but the vines transform into snake shapes with poisonous heads. Other animal bodies can also be seen. … These motifs were renown in Norse religion and superstition but were reinterpreted in Christian art. They did of course provide a sense of familiarity for churchgoers who found it difficult to let go of their old heathen faith. At the same time these wild depictions became a symbol of the battle between good and evil in the world. This was a central topic both in the new and old faith.
~ Heddal Stavechurch guidebook

I noticed that most of the columns inside the church had a simple carving at the bottom of the arches, but on either side of the southern entrance portal columns there was a carving of a creature of some sort (above). In the picture below you can see the simple carvings of three oval leaves (?) on the bottom of the arches, about the same level as the lights.

So I asked the docent about it. She explained that men used to enter the church from the southern portal and were thought to be more likely to bring corruption into the church, so the gargoyle was needed to scare off the evil. The women, on the other hand, used the northern portal and were already protected by the Virgin Mary.
based on “Soria Moria Castle” by Theodor Kittelsen

It was chilly that day and we appreciated a cup of hot cocoa in the visitor center. I was delighted to find these copies of paintings on the backs of a couple of chairs. I’ve been using Theodor Kittelsen’s calendar art in my posts on the 15th of each month since August.
based on “White Bear King Valemon” by Theodor Kittelsen

Next stop: Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

12 thoughts on “Heddal Stavkyrkje”

  1. Beautiful! It’s a nice tour for us to visit the places you visited.. While my desktop automatically gets locked as I keep staring at your pictures and imagining. Nice to know the reasons for the church carvings and peculiar things. The food storage houses used for what purpose and to store what kind of food? Norway is interesting. Thanks Barbara! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Sonali! 🙂 The Scandinavian Heritage website says this about the storehouse:

      “Trunks with clothing and valuables were stored on the upper floor. Food and commodities were stored on the ground floor. Water and rodents were the biggest enemies in a storehouse. Stilts raised the floor level, the wooden steps did not come into contact with building to reduce the possibility of rodent infestation and meat/cheese was hung from the ceiling.

      “According to the Norwegian folklore each farmstead has a Christmas gnome living in their stabbur. The Christmas gnome brings gifts for well-behaved children. But if the gnomes are not well-looked after, they can play tricks on people. Some people put out a bowl of rice porridge sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon to keep their barn gnome happy, much like children today leave out cookies for Santa.”


  2. I am amazed to learn that a wood structure (the church) has survived since 1200 ! It’s stunning. Also would love to learn more about the food storage buildings.

    1. It IS pretty amazing, Sybil! A quick internet search brought up this tidbit:

      “The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts is thought to be the oldest standing timber frame building in North America. Built circa 1637-1641 for Jonathan and Grace Fairebanke and their six children, it was home to eight generations of the Fairbanks family.”

      To think, this church is 400 years older than this house. Please see the comment above for more about the storehouses.

  3. Fascinating reading. You’re a good travel guide Barbara. I’m sure not many people noticed the paintings on the backs of the chairs! I’m also astonished that a wood structure has survived for 800 years.

    1. Thanks, Rosie! It’s an odd thing about me, I tend to notice the things no one else pays attention to, and am completely oblivious to other things that are so obvious to most everyone else. The fairy tale illustrations of Theodor Kittelsen are especially enchanting to me.

  4. The Food Storage houses were built like that to avoid mice and rats (& similar animals) entering the building. It used to Storage grain and flour, in the ceiling hangsmoked and salted meat (often were meat and grain in different floors). https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabbur

    1. Thank you so much, Asbjørn, for the information and link about the food storage houses. When we were traveling along the roads in Norway we saw so many of them, each with its own interesting architecture. Once we even saw two right next to each other – must have been for a large family…

  5. What a nice post! I loved all the intricate wood work in the old church. And the scenery, particularly the beautiful shot with the birch trees, reminds me of the scenery in Finland where my dad still lives.

    1. Thank you, Tiny! How wonderful to have a dad living in Finland – I’d be tempted to visit him several times a year. I found all the woodcarving pretty amazing – one could spend hours studying the fauna and flora intertwined in the motifs.

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