Stave churches were built in wood and were found across the northern parts of the European continent, including in Scandinavia. It is virtually only in the rugged landscape of Norway that these unique buildings have survived, from the Middle Ages and up to the present. However, even Norway saw a dramatic decrease in the number of stave churches.

A stave church in every village…

Stave churches were built over a period of 200 years – from the first half of the twelfth century until the Black Death devastated Norway in 1349. At that time, more than a thousand villages, maybe even more, had a stave church. Only 28 of these churches survive today. Most of them have been altered or extended, and many no longer look like stave churches. Often, the stave structure and a few other parts are all that remain of the original Medieval church. Borgund stave church is the stave church that has weathered the centuries best, without major changes. The churches that have survived are often located in small communities that could not afford to build new ones.

From riches to decline

The stave churches were built in the Catholic Age. In the wake of the Reformation in 1537, major changes were made in church interiors. Side altars and figures of saints were removed. Pulpits and pews were installed, and, with time, windows as well. Many of the stave churches were in a state of decline. After the Black Death in 1349, there were no longer enough people and resources to maintain them all. By the time the population had recovered, two hundred years later, they were building log churches. Only 240 of the original thousand or so stave churches were still standing in 1650. Another two hundred years later, there were only sixty left. The Church Act of 1851, which made stipulations about the size of the church in relation to the number of people in the parish, virtually gave the go-ahead for demolition.

Only 28 stave churches left in Norway…

In 2018, there are just 28 stave churches still standing in Norway. You can find more information about them at
Fantoft stave church (originally Fortun stave church from the innermost reaches of Sogn) was the last stave church Norway lost. It burned down in 1992 in a fire which was started deliberately.