Science & Technology

Behind the animals carved in the Stave Church in Norway

The Stave Church in Norway is spectacular. Built on a staff (large wooden stanchions), it has a unique roof and is now almost unique in the world. But these churches are more than just tourist attractions. It tells the story of when the country switched from Scandinavian beliefs to Christianity.

Header Stave Church (Creative Commons).

Given their traditional lifestyle, it seems somewhat surprising that the Vikings embraced Christianity so thoroughly. But about 1000 years ago, the shift was already in place.

The oldest remaining Stave church (at least we know) dates back to the 1100s, but early churches are also known. Catholics liked stones in their churches, and the Vikings also built some wooden churches — but the Stave church was the norm. They did not use nails, only wood, and the interior was often adorned with dragons and other mythical animals.

It’s strange to decorate your church. Most churches have or depicted biblical events and scenes, but mythical animals are not a common sight. These animals are usually interpreted as pagan remnants, indicating that even if the locals switch to Christianity, they retain some of their previous beliefs.

Inside the Stave Church. Creative Commons.

When Norway gained independence in the 19th century, according to the rules of the “400 Years Night” under Denmark, the Norwegians sought to rediscover the country’s cultural heritage — and found it in the Stave Church. According to historians of the time, they are unique, and the animals carved in them are also unique.

But they may have been only half right, says Margrete Syrstad Andås, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), who leads a research project at the Stave Church.

“The Stave Church was once the main focus of Norwegian history and art studies because of the importance of nationalism,” says Andås.

“But times have changed. Nationalism as a theme has become more of a problem, and at the same time we have begun to question how these buildings are actually in Norwegian. One of my projects. The department involves shedding new light on the Stave Church. “

Which raises the question: how unique are Norwegians in the Stave Church and are the decorations really pagan?

Urnes Stave Church. Creative Commons.

Most studies on the Stave Church are published only in Norwegian or other Scandinavian languages, and rarely in German. As a result, it was inaccessible to other researchers, essentially perpetuating early discoveries about the church. Andås wants to help make real science more accessible to the world, inconsistent with some of the false ideas about the church. Some of her works focused on the Urnes Stave Church depicted above.

“The Ernes Project wants to show that the Stave Church reflects a common cultural heritage in Europe. The purpose of this project is to ensure that the Stave Church is incorporated into the European conversation about medieval art in architecture. That’s what she says.

The first part of the study involves dating the church and its elements. Researchers know that Urnes was built in the 1130s, but wooden churches (and many large wooden buildings) often incorporate wood from previous structures. This wood can be dating using a method called dendrochronology, based on the growth ring of the tree.

This information is stored in annual rings when there are dry years or certain rainy years. Over the years, researchers have created catalogs of “what they look like” on annual rings. If you find a piece of wood with annual rings, you can go back and see when the tree was logged.

According to research, Urnes chiefs began cutting trees for the church in the winter of 1131-1132. However, the church reused the church portal 1070 years ago. Urnes’ oldest dated logs date back to 765. This is the oldest Norwegian church material found this way.

However, the portal is particularly intriguing.

Sculpture from the church portal, traditionally interpreted as a mythical Scandinavian beast Needs Heg Eat roots Yggdrasil.. “Intertwined snakes and dragons Represents According to the legend of Ragnarok in Scandinavia, the end of the world. “

“Some of the snakes attacking with big lions on the portal transform into lilies,” says Andås.

This was considered a classic Scandinavian motif, but Andås believes this interpretation is not really correct. Another researcher on the project, Natalie Le Ruel, points out the importance of the details that were overlooked. The animal is in a hybrid state, transforming from a snake to a lily. In this, Le Ruel sees another motif. The lily was a symbol of salvation at that time. Therefore, the wicked power, the power of chaos, appears to be in the process of being overcome by good. Researchers point out that the dragon, another symbol of Urnes, is not always as Scandinavian as once thought.

“Dragon is often depicted in modern times as representing the pre-Christian Scandinavian era, which is completely wrong,” Andås said.

The dragon is one of the central motifs of the capital within the Urnes Stave Church and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: Birger Lindstad

The Urnes Stave Church is similar to churches in other regions. With its ancient Viking art and animal decoration, it is still similar to what was happening elsewhere.

Urnes researcher Griffin Murray studied Urnes style outside of Scandinavia, especially in Irish churches. The Urnes style represents a form of expression that extends from the Baltic Sea in eastern Scandinavia to Ireland.

The dragon itself is completely lost in the pre-Christian era of Scandinavian art (dominated by wingless snakes). In this context, the research team interpreted the dragon as representing evil in the Christian context. Other animals also represent Christian motifs and are thought to act as parables, but in a fairly unconventional way.

“This animal is a stylized lion and a central motif in the late Viking coat of arms. The lion as a symbol of the ruler can also symbolize Christ fighting evil forces,” Syrstad Andås said. Says.

Overall, the new interpretation points to the art of the Urnes Church as a magnificent collection of Christianity, rather than pagan craftsmanship, with the main theme being the struggle between good and evil. Sure, it was a fairly rare type of Christian art, but it was still a Christian.

“Inside the church, a series of nearly 50 decorations by continent-oriented and highly educated artisans, including lions in acrobatic poses, dragons, hunting scenes, beard-bearded men, and men fighting lions. I carved the capital, “says Syrstad Andås.

The Norwegian Stave churches were previously considered less interested in science, so we may learn more about them in the coming years. Almost a thousand years after they were built, these churches are gaining new life.

Behind the animals carved in the Stave Church in Norway Behind the animals carved in the Stave Church in Norway

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