Borgund Stave Church is a magnificent example of medieval Norwegian architecture in the village of Borgund, Lærdal municipality. The church is renowned for its triple nave design, making it a significant example of the Sogn-type stave church. Borgund Stave Church is particularly notable for its remarkable preservation, making it one of Norway’s most well-preserved stave churches.
Constructed in the 12th century, Borgund Stave Church has stood the test of time and has remained a significant cultural and historical landmark for over 800 years. The church features intricate wood carvings, impressive dragon heads, and unique designs, reflecting the craftsmanship and creativity of its medieval builders.
Borgund Stave Church is a popular tourist attraction and a testament to the ingenuity and skill of medieval Norwegian architecture. Visitors can explore the church’s rich history and marvel at its intricate details, providing a fascinating glimpse into Norway’s rich cultural heritage.
Borgund Stave Church Technical Information
- Architects: Unknown
- Location: Lærdal Municipality, Vestland, Borgund, Norway
- Structure: Vertical wooden boards, or staves, hence the name “stave church.”
- Type: Church
- Materials: Wood
- Style: Stave Church
- Project year: Between 1180 and 1250 AD
Stave churches were once common in northern Europe. In Norway alone, it was thought about 1000 were built; recent research has upped this number and it is now believed there may have been closer to 2000. It is unknown how many stave churches were constructed in Iceland and in other countries in Europe.
Borgund Stave Church Photographs
Stave Churches: A unique architectural legacy of northern Europe
Borgund Stave Church is a significant cultural and historical monument in Norway. Stave churches were constructed during the Middle Ages and played a vital role in spreading Christianity throughout Scandinavia.
These churches were also a symbol of the fusion of Christian and pagan traditions in the region. Borgund Stave Church is one of the best-preserved examples of this architectural style, and its survival is a testament to Norway’s rich cultural heritage. Additionally, the church is associated with numerous legends and folktales, such as the story of the “Borgund Madonna,” a mysterious painting that was said to have healing powers. Today, Borgund Stave Church is a popular tourist destination, and its importance as a cultural and religious landmark continues to be celebrated by Norwegians and visitors alike.
Stave churches were once common in northern Europe. In Norway alone, about 1000 were built; recent research has upped this number, and it is now believed there may have been closer to 2000. How many stave churches were constructed in Iceland and other European countries is unknown.
Some believe they were the first type of church to be constructed in Scandinavia; however, the post-churches are older, although the difference between them is slight. A stave church has a lower construction set on a frame, whereas a post-church has earth-bound posts.
Borgund Stave Church was built between 1180 and 1250 AD, with later additions and restorations. Vertical wooden boards or staves form their walls; hence the name “stave church.” The four corner posts were connected by ground sills, resting on a stone foundation. The rest of the staves then rise from the ground sills, each stave notched and grooved along the sides so that they lock into one another, forming a sturdy wall.
Borgund is built on a basilica plan, with reduced side aisles, with an added chancel and apse. It has a raised central nave demarcated on four sides by an arcade. An ambulatory runs around this platform and into the chancel and apse, both added in the 14th century. In the form of a porch, an additional ambulatory runs around the exterior of the building, sheltered under the overhanging shingled roof. This church’s floor plan resembles that of a central plan, a double-shelled Greek cross with an apse attached to one end in place of the fourth arm. The entries to the church are in the three arms of the almost-cross.
The ceiling is held up with “scissor beams” or two steeply angled supports crossing each other to form an X shape with a narrow top span and a broader bottom span. The lower ends of the X shape are joined by a bottom truss to prevent the X from collapsing. In the case of Borgund, an additional beam cuts across the X below the crossing point but above the bottom truss, for extra stability.
This stabilizes the steeply pitched roof, consisting of horizontal boards covered in shingles. Initially, the roof would have been covered on the outside with boards running lengthwise, like the roof’s composition beneath it. However, in later years, wooden shingles became more frequent. Scissor-beam roof construction is typical of most stave churches.
Bracing in the form of cross-shaped trusses also appears on the building’s walls, with diagonal beams running up the walls from the floor to about level with the top of the arcade. Further crossing, this time in a more ornamental sense, appears in the cross-shaped carvings with medallions in the center, commonly dubbed “Saint Andrew’s crosses,” which run along the area above the arcade in the visual “second story” that is not a gallery but is located where one is commonly put in large stone churches elsewhere in Europe at this time. Near these smaller crosses are the pincer beams, running between the columns to further wedge everything firmly together. The essential bracing elements are the carved buttresses supported by knee joints and arc upward from the outer wall to the top of the arcade, as this helps to support the outward thrust on the stave walls.
Borgund has tiered, overhanging roofs topped with a tower. On the roof’s gables, there are four carved dragon heads swooping from the carved roof ridge crests, recalling the carved dragon heads found on the prows of Norse ships. Similar gable heads also appear on small bronze house-shaped reliquaries common in Norway in this period. Borgund’s current dragon heads possibly date from the 18th century; however, the first dragon heads remaining on earlier structures, such as Lom Stave Church and nearby Urnes Stave Church, the oldest still existing stave church, also in the Sogn district, suggest that there probably would have been similar dragon heads there at one time. Borgund is one of the only churches to preserve its ridge crests, carved with openwork vine and vegetal repeating designs. The dragons on top of the church were often used as a form of drainage.