Kaupanger Stave Church is the largest stave church in the Sogn region. The nave is supported by 22 staves, 8 on each of the longer sides and 3 on each of the shorter. The elevated chancel is carried by 4 free standing staves. The church has the largest number of staves to be found in any one stave church.
The medieval construction of the church is still intact, apart from the roof truss above the nave, and it is considered to be one of the best preserved of our stave churches.
The church has been restored several times, most recently in the 1960s, when the exterior was restored to its 17th century appearance. Excavations beneath the floor of the church have revealed signs of two previous post churches. These have been dated to the latter half of the 11th century and the early 12th century. The second post church was found as an ash layer. Under this layer from the fire of the second church, a coin minted in 1130 was found. This date gives us a limit for the earliest possible building date of the present church.
The name Kaupanger indicates that from the earliest times there has been a kaupang, or trading place, here (it is the same as the word chipping in English place names, incidentally). Historical sources tell us little about the place, which we find first mentioned in Sverre’s Saga in connection with a farmers’ revolt in 1183-84. King Sverre ordered Kaupanger to be burned following the murder of his governor, Ivar Dape, the previous winter.
Earlier researchers have tended to see the burning of the previous church in connection with King Sverre’s punitive expedition to Sogndal in 1184. Erla B. Hohler (1999) points out that the coin only indicates that the church burned sometime after 1130 and that written sources say nothing about the fire actually being in 1184. Hohler sees many similarities between the doorways of Kaupanger and Hopperstad (c.1140) and concludes that the doorways of Kaupanger must have been made simultaneously with or shortly after those of Hopperstad. This dating is supported by a dendrochronological test of the south doorway, which shows that the timber was felled in 1137.
The pulpit, altarpiece and font are all from the 17th century.
Kaupanger Stave Church is still the church of the parish and has been in regular use as Kaupanger’s parish church since it was built. Relics of the past and the imprint of the present day combine to bring the church alive and to bring us the history of the church and the people who have worshipped here down the ages.