The Flesberg Stave Church is as historic as it is aesthetically pleasing, a true synthesis of the medieval and the early modern. 

Things fell apart 

The 19th century was not a good time for historic Norway. Whilst so much of the country's past was being rediscovered and quite literally dug up, many of its architectural wonders, particularly the stave churches, were in a dire state, dilapidated and frequently destroyed. 

Around 1800, the best estimate is that as many as 95 stave churches lined Norway's landscape.

Tragically, by the end of the 19th century, as few as 30 remained, representing a loss not only of architectural wonder but also centuries of worship and communal celebration. 

Many stave churches constructed during the medieval period had barely managed to survive centuries of wear and tear. 

This physical degradation was exacerbated by many Norwegians fleeing the villages, where these stave churches were prominent, for better economic opportunities abroad. 

Not only were these churches falling apart, but many of the parishes were also deteriorating. 

Local authorities decided that building new churches was necessary, and if parishes had to merge, it was considered a small price to pay for the Church in Norway to continue to flourish and grow. 

Yet so many stave churches, literal remnants of Norway's Viking and later medieval history, were torn down and lost to the sands of time during the 19th century. 

Some, however, like the one in Flesberg, survived thanks to more modern adaptations. 

Chosen for its elevated and stable location, the site of the Flesberg Stave Church allowed for the laying of a robust stone foundation, critical for the church's longevity and resistance to Norway's challenging climate. Photo: The Soul Driver (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Building the House of God upon a rock 

Sometimes, the life of a Viking writer can be one of frustration. When it comes to researching construction dates during the early medieval period in Norway, it is probably best to practice some mindfulness or take your frustrations out on a punching bag. 

A case in point is the construction of the Flesberg Stave Church. 

The first written records of this church date from the mid-14th century, but historians believe it was constructed more than three centuries earlier, in an era when people had living memories of the derring-do of Vikings. 

Like most stave churches, the site for Flesberg was chosen for its relatively high and stable ground. This choice enabled the construction of a stone foundation in which wooden beams, known as staves, were placed into the ground next to the solid base. 

Horizontal beams, or sills, connected the staves to this base, providing a sturdy frame for the church's structure.

Wooden planks crafted from pine were inserted into grooves on the sills to construct the walls. These planks were tightly joined to enhance sturdiness and serve as a barrier against Norway's harsh climate. 

Above on the roof, wooden trusses were erected to support the heavy rain and snowfall that annually plague Norway. Shingles were also added to ensure proper water runoff and protect the interior. 

Like other stave churches in Norway, Flesberg features a rectangular nave and a narrow chancel. 

These elements – a strong and sturdy base and a weatherproof exterior – have ensured its survival through centuries of climatic changes and communal use. 

The Flesberg Stave Church, however, is also atypical. What distinguishes it from the other stave churches still standing in Norway is what lies inside – a curious mix of the medieval and the early modern. 

Inside, the church's atmosphere resembles a traditional Norwegian log cabin, evoking the grand halls of Viking leaders and blending historical charm with architectural unity. Photo: Eaglestein (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mixing the early modern with the medieval 

General Eisenhower, the leader in all but name of the Allied forces during the Second World War, once quipped, "Old soldiers don't die; they simply fade away." 

By the 18th century, Flesberg Stave Church was in dire jeopardy of simply fading away. Major reconstruction was needed. 

We sadly do not know what the original church looked like, but as Kristen Bakken writes in her 2016 book, Preserving the Stave Churches: Craftsmanship and Research, we have a painting of the church dating from 1701 following some minor reconstruction. 

However, it took three more decades before a major restoration project essentially transformed the medieval into the early modern. 

According to Anette Sand-Eriksen's 2021 article in the journal Hungarian Archaeology, only three outer walls of the original medieval church remained intact. 

The church now sadly bears little resemblance to its proud Viking roots, but unlike other stave churches, this restoration and reconstruction have allowed it to survive. 

You will, however, forgive the 18th-century locals for their renovations the moment you step inside. 

Surrounding the main door are iconography and designs that seem to be straight from the Viking Age. The interior still bears a striking resemblance to a Norwegian log cabin – similar to the great halls where Viking rulers would have ruled and feasted. 

All eyes, however, focus on the pulpit, from which countless sermons have been preached. While it stands as a prominent example of Lutheran Baroque art, it significantly enhances the church's unique fusion of medieval and early modern styles. 

The ornate portal planks, featuring carvings of vines and animals, stand out as one of the few preserved elements showcasing the church's original decorative style. Photo: Eaglestein (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Into the modern period 

Whilst many of the stave churches that still stand throughout Norway have become frozen snapshots of a historical period, Flesberg is an exception. 

Surviving into the 21st century, it remains the local parish church, allowing inhabitants to celebrate and worship as they have for more than eight centuries. 

Yet this is no stuffy and somber place; it also opens its doors to a new, secular crowd as it has become a popular venue for live music. 

The Norwegian band Miman played a concert here as recently as December 2023. Their choice of music suited the medieval origins of this church, as the band performed works of the medieval mystic, musician, and scholar Hildegard von Bingen.

The Flesberg Stave Church – with its origins in the medieval period – has shown that the best way for a grand old building to survive centuries is through constant improvement and adaptation. That's not a bad life motto for us mere mortals, either!

Visit Norway has more information on Flesberg Stave Church here.

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