Heddal stave church: Norway’s biggest wooden church

You know when someone over the age of 30 says something like “Cor, they don’t make them like that any more!”? Well, show them a photo of a stave church and that’s likely to be just the reaction you’ll get from them – because they really don’t make churches like that any more…

Heddal stave church

Heddal stave church is in – wait for it – Heddal, which is a small village in Notodden, Norway. Heddal (the village) might be small, but Heddal (the stave church) is actually Norway’s largest stave church.

Heddal stave church

“You keep saying stave church – what’s a stave church!?” Well, stave churches are medieval Christian churches built almost entirely out of wood. The name derives from the Norwegian word “stav”, which refers to the load-bearing posts that support the churches’ timber frames.

Photo of Heddal stave church from between 1890 and 1905

Stave churches used to be all the rage, back in the day, but now most of the only surviving churches can be found in Norway. Which brings us back to the church at Heddal…

Sign for Heddal stave church

Of course, you and I know that Heddal stave church (known in Norwegian as “Heddal Stavkyrkje”) was most probably built by a team of workmen over the course of a few weeks. But local legend knows differently…

Heddal stave church

The legend goes that five farmers built the church in just three days with the help of a mischievous troll named Finn Fairhair. According to the story, the five farmers planned to build at church at Heddal when one of them, Raud Rygi, was met by a stranger who was willing to help them build it.

Heddal stave church

The stranger set three conditions – one of which had to be met before the church was finished: fetch the sun and moon from the sky, forfeit his life-blood, or guess the stranger’s name. Raud guessed that the final condition – guessing the stranger’s name – would be fairly easy so he agreed to the terms.

Heddal stave church

When the stranger started building the church much faster than Raud thought (the spire was built by only the second day), he began to panic and feared for his life. So he went for a walk, as you do. He ended up at Svintruberget, which is a rocky hill southeast of the church site, and while he was there, he heard a beautiful woman’s voice singing:

Hush, hush, little child,
Tomorrow Finn will bring you the moon.
He will bring you the sun and the Christian heart,
Pretty toys for my little child to play with.

Heddal stave church

Realising that the stranger was actually a troll named Finn, Raud visited the finished church the next day. The stranger presented the completed church to him, and Raud walked up to one of the pillars saying, “Hey Finn, this pillar isn’t straight!” Dismayed that Raud had guessed his name, the troll could never stand the sound of church bells again and had to move away.

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About Dom Stapleton

Dom Stapleton

As well as being the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik in Iceland is also an incredible place to visit.

We stayed in a hotel right in the middle of the city and spent most days walking around from there. The main thing we noticed (apart from the cold, of course) was that the people are so friendly. At home, trying to cross the road is a nightmare, but in Reykjavik, the cars are literally queuing up to let you across.

When my partner and I went, in January 2013, the sun only started rising at about 10 am, which was a strange experience. And it got dark at about 4 pm each day!

Dom works in our marketing team

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