Heddal Stavkirke

Heddal Stavkirke Norway

HEDDAL STAVKIRKE also known as HEDDAL STAVE CHURCH, a Norwegian Cultural Heritage Site, is a “triple-nave” stave church, located at Heddal in Notodden municipality, Norway, and is Norway’s largest stave church.
It was constructed at the beginning of the 13th century.  After the Reformation, the church was in a very poor condition and a restoration took place during 1849-1851.  However, because the restorers lacked the necessary knowledge and skills, yet another restoration was necessary in the 1950s.  The interior is marked by the period after the Lutheran Reformation in 1536-1537 and is, for a greater part, a result of the restoration that took place in the 1950s.

Heddal Stavkirke

There is a legend about the erection of the church and how it was built in 3 days.  Five farmers from Heddal had made plans for a church and they decided to build it.  One day one of the farmers met a stranger who was willing to build the church.  However, the stranger set down some conditions for doing the job, one of which was to be fulfilled before the church was finished.  There were three options : fetch the sun and the moon from the sky, forfeit his life-blood or guess the name of the stranger.  The farmer thought that the last option would not prove too difficult, so he agreed to the terms.


But time began to run out.  All the building materials had arrived during the first night, and remarkably the spire was built during the second.  It became clear to the farmer that the church would be finished on the third day. Down at heart and fearing for his life, he took a walk around in the fields trying to figure out what the stranger’s name could be.  Still wandering about, he had consciously arrived at SVINTRUBERGET ( a rocky hill southeast of the church site), when he suddenly heard a strange, but most beautiful clearly audible female voice : Hush-hush little child /  Tomorrow your father, Finn, will bring you the sun and the moon from the sky / Or a Christian man’s heart / As fun and games for my baby.
Now the farmer knew what to do, as the stranger was a “mountain troll”.  As expected, the stranger came by the next day to present the church.  Together, they walked over to the church, and the farmer walked up to one of the pillars and hugged it as if to straighten it and said, “Hey, Finn, this pillar isn’t straight.”  When the “troll” heard his name, he got mad and he punched the same pillar so hard that it nearly broke.  He then ran out of the church and up a hill.  From there he threw 3 huge boulders aimed at the church.  One fell to the left and one to the right and the 3rd one fell just outside the gate to the graveyard.  They were ringing the church bells when this was going on, and that is why the 3rd boulder did not hit the church.  Finn moved, along with his family, to HIMING.
In Norway alone, it was thought about 1000 “stave churches” were built, recent research has upped the number to about 2,000.  Many of them survived until the 19th century, while a substantial number were destroyed.  Today, 28 historical stave churches remain standing in Norway.


A STAVE CHURCH is a medieval wooden Christian church building, once common in north-western Europe.  The name derives from the building’s structure of POST & LINTEL construction, a type of TIMBER FRAMING where the “load-bearing posts” are called STAFR (in old Norse) and STAV in modern Norwegian.  Two related church building type, also named for their structural elements, the POST CHURCH & PALISADE CHURCH, are often also called STAVE CHURCHES.
Originally much more widespread, most of the surviving “stave churches” are in Norway.  The only remaining medieval stave church, outside Norway, are those of circa1500 at HEDARED in Sweden and one Norwegian stave church, relocated in 1842 to the outskirts of Poland.  One other church, the ANGLO-SAXON GREENSTED CHURCH in England, exhibits many similarities with a stave church, but is generally considered a Palisade Church.


In Palisade constructions, logs were split in 2 halves, set or rammed into the earth (generally called “post in ground” construction) and given a roof.  This proved a simple but very strong form of construction.  If set in gravel, the wall could last many decades, even centuries.  In Post Churches, the walls were supported by “sills”, leaving only the posts earth-bound.  Such churches are easy to spot at archaeological sites, as they leave very distinct holes where the posts were once placed.  The earth-bound posts were susceptible to humidity causing them to rot away over time.  To prevent this, the posts were placed on top of large stones, significantly increasing their lifespans.  In still later churches, the posts were set on a “raised sill frame” resting on stone foundations.  This is a stave church in its most mature form.

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