Doors may close at stave churches

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An acute lack of funds may force the sale or closure some of Norway’s historic stave churches. The association that owns and operates eight of the country’s most richly decorated wooden churches claims they don’t generate enough income to take care of them.

The Torpo stave church in the valley of Hallingdal, built around 1130, is on the list of those that may be forced to close for lack of operating funds. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The Torpo stave church in the valley of Hallingdal, built around 1130, is on the list of those that may be forced to close for lack of operating funds. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norway’s stave churches and other historic churches have faced money troubles before, but now the situation is critical for three of those in the association running them (Fortidsminneforeningen), according to its secretary general Ola H Fjeldheim.

“We need funds to operate reasonably and responsibly,” Fjeldheim told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. “Therefore we’re evaluating the closure of Nore, Uvdal and Torpo stave churches this summer, all of them in Buskerud County. They’re the churches that have operated with the biggest losses.”

Fortidsminneforeningen, a national volunteer association, is based in Oslo with 21 local chapters scattered around the country. It was founded in 1844 by Norwegian artists keen to preserve Norway’s cultural heritage. The association has around 7,000 members and Queen Sonja is its patron.

The eight of Norway’s 28 stave churches entrusted to its care, however, are privately owned and the association receives no public sector funding to operate them. The association itself has been operating at a loss and is struggling to maintain its historic properties.

Three of its stave churches in the county of Sogn og Fjordane (Urnes, Borgund and Hopperstad) are in good shape and are visited by thousands of people every year. The Urnes Stave Church is on Unescos World Heritage list, while Borgund is the most-visited stave church in Norway.

The Uvdal Stave Church in Numedal has a richly decorated interior from the 1600-1700s. PHOTO: Den Norske Kirken

The Uvdal Stave Church in Numedal has a richly decorated interior from the 1600-1700s. PHOTO: Den Norske Kirken

The Nore and Uvdal stave churches have among the finest preserved interiors but lie a bit more off the tourist track, in the valley of Numedal, and attract far fewer visitors. Both churches along with the Torpo Stave Church in the valley of Hallingdal, have needed major investment to protect them against fire, while the association also wants to “professionalize” visitor operations. “As a volunteer organization we can’t just continue operating at a loss,” Fjeldheim told Aftenposten.

The association hopes the state will grant funding for operations as it does with other museums and historic sites. Fortidsminneforeningen does receive some funding from state preservation agency Riksantikvaren for repairs, while ongoing maintenance is otherwise carried out by volunteers and funded with donations. The association has applied for NOK 10 million from the state Ministry of Culture but its application for operating funds from the Arts Council of Norway (Kulturrådet), which manages state funding from the ministry, was turned down last year.

State Secretary Bjørgulv Vinje Borgundvaag at the Ministry of Culture told Aftenposten that “we’re in dialogue” with Fortidsminneforening about its funding needs. Calls have also gone out for help from the tourism business and county governments where the stave churches are located.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund