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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Billions set to save historic churches

Fewer Norwegians took part in last week’s Easter church services around the country, but the churches themselves are widely viewed as an important part of Norway’s cultural heritage. Now the government plans to invest around NOK 500 million a year on church renovations over the next three decades.

Many of Norway’s historic churches are in need of repairs, like here at Ulnes kirke in Valdres. Norwegian churches will now be able to apply for state funding for restoration and repairs. PHOTO: Berglund

“Churches are central in local Norwegian communities, both as active churches, gathering places and cultural landmarks,” said Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of the Center Party, which has a mostly rural constitutency. “In order to preserve them, we must make sure they don’t fall apart.”

The money is coming from the newly established Kirkebevaringsfondet (Church Preservation Fund), which amounts to NOK 10 billion (nearly USD 1 billion) earmarked to preserve historically important churches around the entire country. They include several well-known churches, like Norway’s oldest and largest stave church in Lom.

The board of directors for the new fund is made up of two representatives from Den norske kirke (set up to administer Norwegian churches after reform of the state church system) and three representatives from Riksantikvaren, Norway’s national historic preservation agency. Archbishop Olav Fykse Tveit was appointed as board leader.

“Our church buildings are an important part of our cultural heritage, both locally and nationally,” stated Tveit in press release from the preservation agency. “In times of joy and sorrow, everyday life, celebrations and crises, the church is a gathering place for an entire local community.” That’s been proven just recently following a rash of murder-suicides where local churches opened to provide gathering places for shocked local residents.

Many old churches around Norway are in serious disrepair, and the Trondheim-based fund’s list includes a total of nearly 1,000 churches already under protection orders. The fund will be used for both exterior and interior restoration as well as improvements to their electrical systems and other important infrastructure.

A new study, meanwhile, indicates that fewer and fewer Norwegians attend regular church services including the special Easter services held around the country. State statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) reports that around 150,000 Norwegians took part in Easter services held last year by the Norwegian Church system, down fro, nearly 200,000 in 2015. The numbers also sank by around 3,000 a year up to 2019. Churches were mostly closed during the pandemic that began in 2020. Berglund



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