About Urnes Stave Church
Norway’s Urnes Stave Church (Urnes Stavkirke) is a well-preserved and oldest surviving example of medieval wooden architecture, meaning that it is the only stave church to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, it is one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions.
History of Urnes Stave Church
Urnes Stave Church is Norway’s oldest and most highly-decorated stave church. Located in Vestland county along the Lustrafjorden – Norway’s longest and deepest Fjord – the church was built on the site of two previous churches in around 1132 and stands in its original position.
The church is an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture, bringing together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions, and Romanesque spatial structures. Indeed, the church is one of the most elaborate and technologically advanced types of wooden construction that existed in North-Western Europe during the Middle Ages.
The word ‘stave’ (or ‘stav’ in Norwegian) means sturdy wood columns that are the corner posts and columns which uphold the overall architectural structure of a building. The building was based upon classic basilica styles from European cathedrals, combined with features such as the roof lined with shingles which was a prominent Scandinavian architectural style.
Medieval furnishings include a Cavalry group over the choir opening, two altar candlesticks of Limonges enamelled bronze, and a chair constructed entirely of turned spindles.
The church has not been in ordinary use since 1881, when the parish of Urnes was abolished. It is now only used for special occasions such as baptisms and weddings.
Interventions and restorations on the church for both religious and preservation reasons have meant that the church has evolved in style since it was first built; however, it is to this day one of Norway’s most striking contributions to world heritage and architecture, being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Urnes Stave Church Today
Today, the church is one of Norway’s most popular tourist sites. It is open every day from 10.30am – 4.30pm, with guided tours available. Services such as weddings and baptisms occasionally take place. There are concerns about the future structural integrity of the church due to tourism and climate change.
Getting to Urnes Stave Church
The church is in a remote yet idyllic location, being a 4 hour 45 minute drive from the city of Bergen. It is reachable in just under 6 hours from Oslo by car. It is recommended that visitors stay in nearby Solvorn, and take the ferry across the fjord, which takes around 30 minutes.
Norway Historic Sites
Set amidst stunning fjords and snow-topped mountains, explore the history of Vikings, witch trials and more in our guide to the 10 must-see historic sites in Norway.