Inspired by stave churches of yesteryear, this interfaith project combines cooperation and sustainability.

Builders, not destroyers

In much of the world, the traditional view is that people from Viking societies were little more than predatory barbarians, engaging in an early medieval version of a "smash and grab" robbery.

However, there is a rich cultural and architectural history that these people have bequeathed to modern Norway. 

Aside from the glorious examples of maritime art posing as weaponry, the world-famous stave churches grew out of this Viking milieu. These churches, once common throughout Norway, are named from their post and literal construction.

During the early medieval period, when Norway was undergoing widespread Christianisation, palisade constructions evolved. Logs were split into two, rammed into the earth, and given a roof.

By the latter end of the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100 CE), more churches were constructed in this fashion.

Stave churches are such an intrinsic part of the Norwegian cultural landscape that the one in Urnes has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yet, Urnes is not alone in its beauty. 

More than 28 stave churches are scattered throughout Norway, mainly along the fjord-riddled western coast. This number has decreased from more than 350 in the mid-17th century CE, as many have unfortunately been destroyed due to modern "progress."

With a foundation built on a barge launched in 2019, this cathedral transforms discarded waste into a symbol of community and environmental responsibility. Photo: Courtesy of Erika Kurahachi / Håpets Katedral

Clean up Fredrikstad

Nowadays, Norway, like much of Scandinavia, is synonymous with environmental sustainability, protection, and cleanliness. 

In this author's opinion, a stroll through any city or town in Norway will present streets so spotless that you could potentially eat off them (though, as a word of warning, it's not recommended to try this).

Every year, thousands of tourists descend on Fredrikstad without wreaking havoc on the local environment. However, this was not always the case.

A cultural advisor for the Diocese of Borg of the Norwegian Church, Solveig Egeland had noticed that up until the mid-2010s, the waters surrounding her hometown were becoming more clogged and cluttered with disposable waste and rubbish. 

Amongst her many cultural projects that engage the community in rethinking and recycling waste, one involved constructing small cottages from seaside litter with the help of young locals.

This recycling of waste for high culture was a seed planted which would germinate in 2018.

A Cathedral of Hope

By 2018, vast swathes of every city or town in Norway were undergoing some sort of gentrification. 

Fredrikstad was no different, but Egeland believed she could create a project that was beneficial not only for the eye but also for the environment and the soul.

The Håpets katedral project was initiated to extend Egeland's work with the children of Fredrikstad at the seaside. 

From the very beginning, it was an open project - somewhat hindered by messy bureaucracy - yet it welcomed members from the entire Fredrikstad community, regardless of their religious persuasion. 

Though Egeland is a member of the Church of Norway, and the project received help from Caritas (a Catholic social justice organization), members of Fredrikstad's Buddhist, Muslim, and atheist community have contributed.

Inspired by the stave churches of yesteryear, the result is a beautiful cathedral – in a very secular sense – a space for interfaith collaboration, discussions, and meetings. A place where members of the Fredrikstad community can come together and converse.

Serving as a hub for interfaith collaboration, Håpets katedral has welcomed contributions from Fredrikstad's Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, and Christian communities alike. Photo: Courtesy of Erika Kurahachi / Håpets Katedral

A recycled mixture of old styles and new colors

The result of this communal cooperation is a place of hope. 

Egeland has led the community in constructing an entire cathedral from recycled materials. Originally, the foundation of the cathedral was built on a barge that was launched into the very same fjord in 2019, which Egeland had seen littered with trash for all those years. Not anymore, though.

Following its (literal) launch, the cathedral has been shaped with inspiration from traditional stave churches. Whilst its roof, built from plastic, boasts more than 50 vibrant colors.

The most outstanding achievement, however, has been to bring together a community in the age of Netflix. There have been more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work logged, and after every session, there is often a communal snack, dinner, or song shared.

Perhaps one of the proudest achievements is the story of ten older, newly arrived immigrants. These "new Norwegians" could not receive the municipality's language and culture course. So, they came to the cathedral in order to learn, via immersion, the local language and culture. 

They built not only a cathedral but a sense of community.

Aside from helping newcomers ease into the Fredrikstad community, there are sessions for inner reflection. The last Sunday of every month is dedicated to meditation, music, and praying for the ocean.

However, with the work of Solveig Egeland and the Fredrikstad community, some of those prayers for a cleaner ocean and a more harmonious community have been answered, thanks to Håpets katedral.

You can visit the website of Håpets katedral to learn more about the project and its initiatives here. While Forbes has the latest information on the scientific findings into the age of the Urnes Stave Church, available to read here.

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