If you are planning to do the Valdresflye National Scenic Road, I recommend taking a detour to Hegge Stave Church. Located south of Beitostølen, Hegge Stave Church is a grand wooden church that has more or less been here since the 13th century. Like every one of the 28 remaining stave churches in Norway, Hegge Stave Church has a fascinating history. So, let’s get into it!
The Early Years
Hegge Stave Church is first mentioned in history in 1327, yet some of the logs date to the early 13th century. Hegge Stave Church is a mix of two previous stave churches. The church got this location in the 17th century.
Buried Beneath the Surface
Inside the church, you’ll be able to see the eight free-standing staves that are original from the Middle Ages. At the top of the staves are different facemasks, which we see in several stave churches including Borgund. Also, like Borgund, St. Andrews crosses link the staves together. On one of the staves is the rune inscription “Erling Arnson wrote these runes”. It may be the same Erling whose name we find on a rune inscription in Høre Stave Church nearby.
There used to be a covered gallery all around the outside of the church. Legend says this is where the Vikings would leave their weapons so they wouldn’t get wet. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it’s an interesting image nonetheless! You’ll see the covered gallery in some stave churches today, like Fantoft and Borgund.
The staves rise above the ceiling; the flat ceiling is fairly new.
Today the building is in the basilica style.
Oh Stave Church, Where Art Thou?
Hegge Stave Church has had many major renovations. Looking at pictures today, you can tell it doesn’t look like a stave church. Sadly, this is common of many stave churches in Norway. At the same time, this restoration work guaranteed their protection from being torn down to make way for new churches.
As mentioned above, the church was moved to its present location with parts from two previous churches. These parts may have come from two disused churches in Valdres, explaining the different dating’s on the church.
Restoration efforts took place in 1694, 1706 and 1712, for starters.
Extensions to the west happened in 1842. In 1844, the church was enlarged so the choir was as wide as the nave. Moreover, in 1864, the sacristy was added, and a flat ceiling covered over the old one, which would’ve looked like an overturned fishing boat. Other stave churches, like Borgund, still have this design. The church was painted white in 1872; the red paint was added later. This means that, unlike most other stave churches, this one is not tarred. I don’t know. I like my stave churches tarred.
The last major renovation was between 1923 and 1924. Stone foundations placed under the church provide it with more stability. Additionally, the gallery and tower got new stairs.
Judging from all these renovations, it seems that all that remains of the stave church is its staves.
Inside the church, you’ll find some incredible carvings from the 13th century. They are at the top of the staves and seem to represent kings. There’s a theory that one of them represents Odin, from Norse mythology, but that is not confirmed. The only other original piece inside the church is the baptismal font, made of soapstone from the 1100s. It has lovely decorations around it including trees, human figures and stars.
There is a vestment from 1686 and a painting of Isaac’s Sacrifice from 1643 that are from the post-Reformation times.
The altarpiece is famous for its folkloric tale. Four men from the parish went to Gudbrandsdal, the neighbouring valley, to buy or sell some cattle. They got caught in a major storm on the way back. They promised God that if they survived they would each give the value of a cow to Hegge Stave Church. The men survived and paid for the altarpiece. They pulled it to the church the following year on a sleigh. The altarpiece is from 1782 and has two pairs of candlesticks from around 1600 plus three ancient bibles from 1699, 1738 and 1764.
Around the Church
The church has a carved gate from the Middle Ages, but the cemetery around the church is not that old. Hegge Stave Church is located some ways up the hill and stands by the farm Presthegge. You’ll see cows and tractors across the street!
Hegge Stave Church Today
The church is still the parish church in the local community. It’s possible to visit the church throughout the year for free, just check the website for the current opening hours.
There is a large parking lot outside the church, and by the fence are some information boards in English and Norwegian.
Hegge Stave Church is located just off the Fv51, a little north of the town Heggenes and 15 minutes south of Beitostølen, a winter sports resort and endpoint of the Valdresflye Scenic Road. Close by is the E16 between Bergen and Oslo. If you’re on the E16, you’ll see signs to Beitostølen from Ryfoss. Just follow those until the Fv51, and then turn right towards Heggenes instead of left to Beitostølen.