Røldal Stave Church is a special church. With its position on the edge of three counties and the road between east and west, Røldal has welcomed travellers for thousands of years. The stave church became an important pilgrimage site (the second-most important after Nidaros Cathedral) for these travellers. After all, the crucifix that has hung in the church for 1000 years was known to have healing powers.
I got to visit the Røldal Stave Church in September 2020. While the inside was closed, the outside is as beautiful. While churches in Norway can blend into one another, each one stands out for its story. I’ve put together an overview of the history of this church so you can see why it’s so special to visit.
Røldal Stave Church
History of Røldal Stave Church
The Røldal Stave Church dates back to around 1250 and the architect is unknown. Like many stave churches, Røldal Stave Church has changed in appearance since its construction. Originally, the church was a singular room, but it has since received a bell tower and choir out the back.
The first major renovation took place after the Reformation in the 16th century. Inside the church, Lutheran decorations replaced Catholic ones. Further renovations took place in 1884 when the stone floor was removed and sold at an auction. The last renovations were in 1915-1918, giving the church its current appearance. Removing the 19th-century panelling revealed the Renaissance interior. A new gallery protects the walls and a new foundation wall is under the church. It’s likely the old cultural layers of the church are still under the main room (ship).
As mentioned above, Røldal Stave Church is famous for its crucifix. This crucifix isn’t any crucifix; it has healing powers.
Legend has it that a blind man found the crucifix while fishing. He caught something heavy, and when he raised it a Christ picture appeared in the sea. They tried to lift it into the boat, but it was too heavy. The man struggled for so long that swear pored from his brow into his eyes. He had to let go and wipe his eyes – he then suddenly had his sight restored! He understood a miracle happened to him and resumed struggling to get the Christ, vowing to donate it to a church. Only when he mentioned Røldal Church did the crucifix lighten and he was able to lift it. He rowed to shore and gifted it to the church.
It’s said that every Midsummer Eve the church sweat, and this sweat could heal the ill. When Lutheran became the main religion, attempts to stop this ‘cult worship’ became common. Worshipping icons in the Lutheran religion is idolatry and forbidden by the church.
Even so, mass took place every Midsummer Eve. This lasted until 1835, when the Provost Ole Nicolai Løberg visited Røldal, saw what was happening, and forbid it. Still, pilgrims continued to visit the crucifix until 1850, when the practice ended.
Today, the crucifix is the only surviving cult object in Norway’s pilgrim churches.
The church is a votive church, meaning that it received large donations from the pilgrims. The small village became very prosperous and grew quickly.
Sadly, most of the interior decoration is now in the Bergen Museum. This includes wooden sculptures of St. Olav and Mary and Baby Jesus from around 1250, and the archangel Michael from around 1200. Yet, the crucifix is still located in the church.
The church has staves, but they are only in the corners. Most stave churches have a raised central space, making the staves much more visible.
The baptismal font is soapstone and dates back to around the time the church was built, as is the crucifix. The altarpiece is from Lutheran times, around 1629.
Legend has it there was a cod backbone on the wall for some time. The story goes that two men were fishing in the Røldal Lake, which is freshwater and has no cod. One of the men, who were not from the village, said: “Røldal Church is no more a healing church than there is no cod in Røldal Lake!” Soon after, his fishing line began pulling, and he pulled up a cod! The backbone hung in the church for some time. I love a good legend, whether there is much truth to it.
Is it a stave church?
During the renovations in 1844, questions arose about the construction of the church. The building method differs from other stave churches. An investigation into the construction method took place. The resulting opinion is that the church may not be a stave church. Some believe that the church is a post church; the predecessor of the stave church. When categorising the church, it is like the Møre-type stave churches.
The church is a rectangular-shaped nave and chancel with a saddle over the roof. There are similarities to Finnesloftet in Voss, one of the oldest buildings in Norway. Unlike stave churches, Røldal Stave Church does not have a decorated panel. Furthermore – it is one of few stave churches to rest on a stone foundation.
Memorial Outside the Church
Outside the church is a memorial stone commemorating the people from Røldal who helped in the fight for freedom independence from Sweden in 1905.
The Church Today
Today the church is preserved as a church museum, though regular service is still held here twice a month.
Visiting Røldal Stave Church
Røldal Stave Church is located 44 mins (42km / 26 miles) from Odda and 5 mins (4.1km / 2.6 miles) from the Ryfylke Scenic Road/Horda.
It is possible to take a public bus from Odda. From the stop Røldalsvegen ved gågata in Odda downtown take the number 930 bus towards Odda-Seljestad vekt for 16 stops / 36 minutes until you reach Seljestad vektstasjon. From there, take the bus number NW180 towards Oslo Bus Terminal for three stops (20 mins) until you reach Bruleitet. It’s then a 6 minute walk to the church. It’s worth noting that the second bus is a regional bus and therefore does not run regularly, so you really have to plan your time.
Most people drive to Røldal Stave Church.
The church is open during the summer months for a small fee. Click here to view current opening information.
Parking is free and in front of the church. There are toilets on the property, but they are only open during the summer.