The stave churches constitute a particularly valuable part of the Norwegian architectural heritage, and are considered to be of global as well as national importance. Their construction and richly decorated carvings show some of the finest craftsmanship to be seen anywhere in Norway.
They also show many examples of how impulses from abroad were incorporated into Norwegian architecture. Urnes stave church is on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Like other medieval buildings and installations, the stave churches are automatically protected under the Cultural Heritage Act.
The stave churches are being restored
Norway originally had between 1000 and 2000 stave churches, but only 28 are still standing. All the churches now have fire protection systems that are operative at all times. A number of the stave churches were poorly maintained. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage therefore started the stave church restoration programme in 2001. The programme is running to 2015 and sets out to restore all the churches to a satisfactory standard.
The main purposes are to maintain the churches' historical value for posterity and their value as historical and economic resources for local communities.
Natural decay and lack of maintenance
Stave churches are deteriorating because of a combination of natural decay and lack of maintenance.
Some of the stave churches are very popular tourist destinations. Visits by tourists generate a considerable amount of activity and income opportunities for local communities. However, the stave churches are vulnerable to wear and tear. We must find ways of encouraging tourism that have positive local effects but also reduce wear and tear on the stave churches.
Click on a name to read more about the stave churchMap of stave churches
The stave church programme 2001-2015
The restoration and maintenance of stave churches and other wooden medieval buildings requires special expertise. We need to train craftsmen and make use of traditional knowledge of skills and materials. This is costly, and for many of the owners of stave churches, not possible without substantial grants from the state.
The Directorate for Cultural Heritage´s stave church restoration programme, which started in 2001 and is running to 2015, sets out to restore all the churches to a satisfactory standard.
All the stave churches have fire protection systems to reduce the risk of irreplaceable buildings being damaged by fire or lost altogether. The systems are continiously maintained. All fire protection measures should be carried out with as little physical damage to the fabric of the building as possible, particularly to the medieval parts.