In the picturesque setting of Setesdal, a lush Norwegian valley fed by the river Otra, Sandra Birkenes is looking to build a church. 

There may seem nothing unusual about this, until it becomes clear what kind she has in mind: a stave church, a distinctive construction of ore pine prevalent across Scandinavia in the 1100s and 1200s.

Reviving a dying tradition

In the Middle Ages, there were a thousand stave churches across Norway – now, only 28 remain. 

The most famous, and perhaps most typical, is Borgund Stave Church, in the village of the same name, dating to around 1200.

While many flock to Borgund and other examples to admire their particular architecture, layers of timber frames rising up around a single load-bearing post (hence "stave"), few today have the technical know-how to build one. Hence Sandra Birkenes.

Project manager for the future Setesdal Stave Church, earmarked for a site close to Setesdal Museum and the riverfront, where Hylestad's stood until 1664, Sandra now has to raise the wherewithal for the construction. 

This is no small task, as plans also call for traditional building methods to be used, down to horse-drawn transport and the requirement that logs are dragged over the icy ground to recreate the same particular marks that typified Hylestad Stave Church.

Finding the funding

Despite these laudable restrictions, Sandra has already found a small team of expert craftsmen who have created a model of what Setesdal Stave Church will look like, generating public awareness and even excitement. 

Now comes the hard part: funding. It is estimated that the church will cost some NOK 112 million to build, nearly EUR 10 million, which would cover the costs of paying nearly 1,000 craftsmen working over six years. 

These workers will learn new skills, such as how to use a specific kind of axe similar to the one Sandra's ancestors would have employed 1,000 years ago.

With a plot already found, Sandra now has to convince enough relevant bodies – such as the Norwegian Crafts Institute – and potential sponsors of the value of such an ambitious project. 

As they say, build it, and they will come. Watch this space!


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