As firefighters were battling the flames that ravaged a 250-year-old church in Porsgrunn early Monday, vandals were attacking three other churches in the area. Police, however, can’t confirm a connection between the fire and the vandalism.
Police were investigating a case of attempted arson at the nearby Borgestad Church in the district around Porsgrunn known as Grenland, southwest of Oslo. An attempt to damage the church was averted, but police found burned cloths lying on several benches around the church.
Vår Frues Catholic Church in Porsgrunn was also hit by vandalism, as was the Stranda Chapel at Oklungen. Church officials found broken windows at the Catholic Church, while there were reports of theft from the chapel.
The sudden spurt of vandalism prompted local officials responsible for the churches, called kirkevergene, to launch a series of vigils around the properties to head off intruders. Police reportedly suspect that pranksters may be behind the vandalism, as opposed to the more serious spates of church arson and vandalism that was tied to Norway’s Black Metal circles several years ago.
Norway underwent a period of church fires and vandalism back in the 1990s, and the country’s old wooden churches remain vulnerable to flames and destruction. A 209-year-old church in Våler, Hedmark County, was hit by arson in May 2009, just before the religious holiday known as pinse (Whitsund) in Norway.
The cause of Monday’s fire that destroyed the Østre Porsgrunn Church in Porsgrunn just before next week’s Easter holidays has yet to be determined. Police weren’t ruling out arson, but church conservationists are also worried about aging electrical systems at many Norwegian churches, which also can spark fires.
Norway’s state church system has been in the midst of receiving some crisis aid from the government, to offset years of neglect. Major maintenance projects have been underway at various churches around the country, but demand for more funding remains high.
Rigmor Aasrud, the government minister responsible for churches in Norway, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was unlikely more aid would be forthcoming. While the state formally owns the churches, she said local communities must attend to their needs and take responsibility for their condition.