Kid’s Corner

by: Irene Davis

My article is on Stave Churches this month. I hope you learn something new!

A stave church is a medieval wooden church, with a post (stave) and a beam construction related to timber framing. The wall frames are filled with vertical planks. The load­bearing posts have lent their name to the building technique.

Some constructions are known from buildings from the Viking era. Logs were split in quarters, rammed into the ground and given a roof. If it was set in gravel, the wall could last for decades, and even centuries! Remains of buildings of this type of church are found around a lot of Europe.

In the later churches, the walls were held up by sills, only leaving the corner posts in the earth. Such churches are easy to spot at archaeological sites because they leave very distinct holes where posts were placed. Sometimes the remains are even preserved, which makes it possible to give a very good dating of the church building. Under Urnes stave church, remains have been found of two such churches, with Christian graves discovered below the oldest church. In still alter churches; the posts were set on a raised sill frame, resting on stone foundations. This is the stave church in its most mature form.

Stave churches were once common in Northern Europe. In Norway alone, a total of about 1,000 churches have been built, although more recent research has adjusted the number to around 2000! Some believe they were the first type of church to be built in Scandinavia. In Norway, 28 historical stave churches remain standing. There are also a number of places where there have been archaeological surveys uncover old post churches.

There is some historical evidence suggesting that the stave churches were built upon Old Norse religious ground. In other cases there is evidence of much older churches built on the same ground; often the stones are left in the holes created by the posts of an older post church. Newer research indicates that Christianity was introduced into Norway much earlier than previously assumed.

Decoration of stave churches feature an intriguing combination of Christian designs intermixed with what is often assumed to be pre-Christian Viking motifs. Such as the interwoven dragon motifs. A closer study reveals the clear religious under pinning, the fight between good and evil. There are several churches where figures from the Old Norse myths are depicted, often entangled or stylized, and thus the victory is on display.

The dating of such buildings may be done in different ways, by historical records, inscriptions, by stylistic means on construction details or ornaments. Often historical records or inscriptions will point to a year when the church is known to have existed. Archaeological excavations can yield finds, which can provide relative dating for the structure, whereas absolute dating.methods, such as radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology can provide a more exact date. Irene Davis 12 years old