The Numedal Valley contains the best-preserved collection of medieval buildings in Norway. When driving from Kongsberg towards Geilo, you’re treated with gorgeous views, ancient farms, and many stave churches. Four, to be precise. The last one before Geilo is Uvdal Stave Church, and much like the others, it doesn’t disappoint.
Compared to the other stave churches (Flesberg, Rollag and Nore), Uvdal is high on the hillside. Moreover, it is still surrounded by ancient farm buildings. This church was in use until the late 19th century when the town built a new church further down the valley. The new Uvdal Church looks exactly like a stave church, so don’t get the two mixed up!
Numedal Valley Scenic Drive
This stave church is part of the scenic road from Kongsberg to Geilo. You can find more info about this drive (and watch it on YouTube) by clicking the button below.
In September 2020 I got to visit Uvdal Stave Church as part of my road-trip through Norway. While I only got to see the outside (these churches are seldom open out of the summer months), I loved being able to see it. In this guide, I try to highlight the unique aspects of the church. At the bottom is some practical information for your own visit.
Like the other churches in the valley, the exact date is unknown. However, it’s believed Uvdal is from around 1169 thanks to the dating of the timber used in the construction. Much like Nore, it is a single nave stave church with a central mast. The mast is to hold up the tower with the bell, and these two stave churches are unique in Norway. Also, like the other churches, there are remains of a previous church underneath.
In 1978, archaeological excavations found a large number of objects. They found 552 coins: 44 are from 1177-1202 (the reign of King Sverre), 40 are from 1200 and 120 are from 1217-1263 (the reign of King Håkon). Textiles and other objects were also found. One of the most interesting discoveries is a pilgrims mark of St. Olav on a wall. It’s from the 13th century and is interesting as this is not a pilgrims church or on the way to Nidaros Cathedral, where Olav is buried.
In written material, Uvdal is first mentioned in 1327.
Expansion and Renovations
The original stave churches were very small, and over the centuries they became impractical. Because of this, they have been constantly expanded, renovated, and redesigned. For Uvdal, it’s almost as if each century has added something to the church.
The first extensive renovations came after the Reformation in 1537. Between 1651 and 1682 Knut Jørgensen Winter was a parish priest in the valley. He came from Denmark and had big plans for the Rollag, Nøre and Uvdal stave churches. In the 1650s the church got a flat ceiling, and in 1656 the interior was painted. Furthermore, in 1684, the church got an extended chancel. In the 1720s and 1730s, further extensions changed it into a cruciform church (cross-like floor plan).
In 1760 the exterior got panels; before then, it was bare timber. The church has always been covered in tar, as are all stave churches.
One of the most interesting aspects of the church is its western portal, or western entrance. It is richly carved from the late Middle Ages and includes a depiction of Gunnar. Gunnar is the lead character in the Volsungesaga, a pre-Christian saga based on ancient Germanic myths.
In the story, Gunnar murders his brother-in-law and hides his gold. Atle, the King of Hunaland, wants Gunnar to tell him where the gold is. So, Atle ties Gunnar’s hands behind his back and throw him in a snake pit – a common theme in old sagas. Gunnar manages to play a harp with his feet, and all the snakes fall asleep. Well, except for one, who kills Gunnar, but still. Gunnar is a hero! When Gunnar dies, Atle is unable to ever learn the hiding place of the gold. Gunnar in the snake pit is a very popular motif in Norwegian and Swedish medieval art, and snakes are found all over stave churches.
The oldest decorations inside the church are from 1656. However, most of the decoration comes from the period 1721-1723 and the painting style is Rococo. Rich decorations of flowers and vines cover the interior. The artist (or artists) is unknown, but it’s clear inspiration came from European art.
Parts of the medieval floor are preserved. Until 1620, the only light came from portholes high up, but that year two windows were put in. The pews were added in 1624. It’s not clear when the church got its pulpit and altarpiece, but they were there in 1656.
The most interesting interior item is no longer inside the church. It is a 30cm high crucifix of bronze and enamel. It came from Lingoes in France and was made during the 13th century. It’s not known how a French object made its way to this remote valley. Today you can see the crucifix in the Cultural History Museum in Oslo.
The Church Today
Uvdal Stave Church was taken out of use in 1893 when the new church was completed in the new village centre. Services occasionally take place here in the summer, but mostly the church is a museum piece. It’s probably lucky the village was built up in a different location, otherwise, the stave church may have been torn down.
Visiting the Church
You can visit Uvdal Stave Church throughout the year, but it’s only open in the summer months.
The church is open daily from the beginning of June until the end of August. Tickets cost 80 NOK for an adult.
Up-to-date opening hours and admission fees can be found here: https://www.stavechurch.com/uvdal-stave-church/?lang=en