Historic church burns to the ground

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Just a week before the traditional Easter holidays begin, residents of Porsgrunn were mourning the loss Monday of their historic church that was to be a center of activity. Fire swept through the wooden building during the night, reducing it to rubble.

Østre Porsgrunn Church PHOTO: Den Norske Kirke

The congregation had just celebrated the church’s 250th anniversary last year, and its pastor was stunned by the fire that destroyed the historic timber structure in just a matter of hours.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that firefighters received the first alarm at 3:15am. They had the blaze under control by 5am, but the tower had fallen and the historic structure was destroyed.

None of the treasures inside the church, which opened in 1760, could be spared either. In addition to its valuable and well-known organ, the church featured an alter painting by Axel Ender from 1890, a richly carved and decorated pulpit and a unique collection of antique chairs.

“This is terribly sad for very many people,” local paster Per Johan Wiik told NRK after arriving at the burning church just 15 minutes after getting a call about the fire. The church was scheduled to host children from local schools and day care centers on Monday for various Easter- and historic activities, along with all the special Easter services next week.

“And just think of all the confirmations that also lie before us,” Wiik said. Norway’s traditional spring confirmation season begins in May, so all ceremonies will need to be moved to another location.

Østre Porsgrunn Church was the main church for the city of Porsgrunn, located along the coast just over a two-hour drive southwest of Oslo, and could accommodate 600 persons inside.

Asbjørn Løvoll of the Telemark Police District told NRK that the church was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at the scene. From its landmark location, flames could be seen all over the city.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation. Norway suffered a series of church fires in the 1990s, several set by vandals.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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