How Borgund Stave Church was built
At the time the stave-churches were built, there was already a long tradition in building in wood. The Viking Age had come to an end, but Norwegians were still a seafaring people. Impulses from church building abroad were combined with local traditions.
Borgund stave-church has withstood the ravages of time as the timber groundframe rests on stone foundations. The wood does not rot, as it is not in contact with the damp earth.
Borgund Stavkirkes oppbygning
1. The timber may have been seasoned on the root, drawing the tar to the surface. Once felled, it was trimmed to shape. A stave-church can consist of 2,000 pieces.
2. The sturdy framework was put together on the ground and then raised upright, probably with the help of long poles.
3. The construction takes its name from the major uprights or ‘staves’ that form the framework of the central room. They are capped with carved faces.
4. The staves are held firmly together with pincer beams.
5. The diagonal cross-braces are named after St Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross.
6. The rounded arches are made from angled joints or ‘knees’ taken from strong, naturally curved parts of the tree between the trunk and the roots.
7. The external wall-planks are set vertically in a frame consisting of groundframe, wall plates and corner posts.
8. Limited light entered through the round ‘portholes’. The present window in the end wall is more recent, but there was probably a window here in medieval times.
The holy room
What you can see
The main doorway with acanthus vine-scrolls on the pilasters. The side panels and door lintel are decorated with serpents and dragon-like creatures and foliage.
The south door with animal masks. Two lions crown the capitals.
The medieval stone altar. The altarpiece was painted in 1654 and depicts Christ’s crucifixion. The frame dates from 1620.
The medieval soapstone font.
The pulpit is from 1550-70. There was no pulpit in Catholic (medieval) times.
Cupboard from 1550-70 for storing the sacred vessels used during communion.
Wall squint giving a view of the altar from outside. It may have been used for prayers when the church was closed.
Consecration cross in the wall.
Carver’s marks on the doors.
What you cannot see
All the church art that has disappeared. There would have been a cross, possibly painted sculptures of Mary and other saints on side altars. The high altar may have had an altar frontal decorated with scenes from the Bible or from the legend of St Olaf.
The original narrow opening in the chancel screen.
The priest conducting Mass in Latin and the vestments worn during Mass.
The congregation with men and boys on the right and women and girls on the left. The elderly and sick could sit on benches along the walls.
What you cannot hear
The priest reciting Mass in Latin and the congregation’s responses during the service. The singing.
The church bells in the belfry summoning people to Mass. The small bells used during the service.
Nor can you smell the scent of incense.