Stave churches get some secret help

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Norway’s historic stave churches have been getting some badly needed restoration work, along with improvements aimed at preserving them for another thousand years. Much of the work done to ensure their security is being kept secret.

An historic photo of the Urnes Stave Church, which is now reopening after major restoration work. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The 28 original stave churches that still exist around Norway are among the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The one believed to be oldest, the picturesque Urnes Stave Church perched on a slope above the Sognefjord, won a spot on the United Nations World Heritage list more than 30 years ago.

The Urnes church, built around 1130 and still sitting at its original location, will reopen next week after major restoration, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Queen Sonja will be on hand for the ceremonies on September 2, which culminate NOK 12 million worth of work that included new foundation support after the north wall had begun to sag.

All told, around NOK 150 million is being invested in the churches as part of a long-term program expected to be complete in 2015. The work includes everything from new roofing to measures taken to protect the churches from theft, fire and vandalism.

Jørn Holme, the former head of police intelligence agency PST who recently took over as head of Norway’s historic preservation organization Riksantikvaren, wouldn’t reveal exactly what those measures are, other than to say they’re comprehensive. Aftenposten reported that it has included equipping the churches with various alarms and video surveillance systems.

All the churches also have local security arrangements. The need for alarms and security precautions hit hard when the historic Fantoft Stave Church outside Bergen burned down in 1992, a victim of arson.

Sjur Mehlum, head of Rikstantikvaren’s stave church program, told Aftenposten that the churches mostly have needed new roofing and foundation reinforcement. There have also been problems with decay in some of the wood that’s been around since the days of the sagas.

Other stave churches, such as Borgund in Lærdal, have proven to be in surprisingly good shape, thanks to unique knowledge of materials and good craftsmen in the area. The roof shingles on the Borgund Stave Church are original, and haven’t been changed since they were laid in 1180.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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