Tourists steal nails from stave churches

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Norway’s carefully preserved stave churches have survived for centuries but face threats from thoughtless tourists. The caretaker for one of them in Telemark has found small holes in the wooden walls where nails used to be, taken by tourists who’ve helped themselves to a souvenir.

Tourists have been stealing old wooden nails from the walls of the Eidsborg stave church in Telemark. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“The tourists want to take something with them from a visit to the church,” Bjørnar Christensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. As kirkeverge for the Eidsborg stavkirke in Telemark County, he’s in charge of looking after the wooden building from the mid-1200s. He now feels compelled to install surveillance cameras to reveal and hopefully ward off such theft.

Local newspaper Vest-Telemark Blad reported that around 100 wooden nails have disappeared from the wooden walls. If more are taken, the walls could fall down.

“The walls of the church are tinder dry, so it’s not difficult to loosen a nail from its position,” Christensen told NRK. He said church officials are now setting new nails into the empty holes and tarring the walls as well as part of maintenance efforts. Then it won’t be so attractive, or easy, for folks to steal a nail, Christensen hopes, “because their fingers would get very dirty.”

Eidsborg, a popular tourist attraction not far from the landmark Dalen Hotel at the end of the Telemark canal boat line, is the only stave church in Norway that has used wooden nails to hold the wooden staves on its walls in place. That may make them especially tempting to stave church fans.

Håvard Jørge Russnes, leader of Norway’s stave church owners’ forum, said nail-stealing is a problem all over the country. “We’ve also experienced people scratching their names or symbols into the woodwork,” Russne told NRK. “We think that’s horrible, but that’s what some people do to a structure that’s stood where it is for hundreds of years.”

Anyone stealing from or vandalizing such as structure is in violation of Norway’s cultural heritage law, and can risk being reported to the police. Nearly half-a-million people visited Norway’s stave churches last year.

“We also feel we have to set up continual surveillance at the church,” Christensen at the Eidsborg church said. “We think it’s unnecessary for tourists to take this type of souvenir with them, but we’re living in a time where folks don’t always understand what they do.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund