Stave churches

Published by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage

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.

Lomen stave church in Vestre Slidre in Oppland county. Photo: Dagfinn Rasmussen, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage

Today there are only 28 churches left

Norway originally had between 1000 and 2000 stave churches. Impulses from abroad, along with traditional local craftsmanship, evolved into an architecture that is in a unique position internationally. Urnes stave church is on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Today only 28 stave churches are still standing.

Like other medieval buildings and installations, the stave churches are automatically protected under the Cultural Heritage Act.

Natural decay and lack of maintenance

Stave churches have been deteriorating due to a combination of natural decay and lack of maintenance. 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. Upgrading safety system also requires special expertise. This is costly, and for many of the owners of stave churches, not possible without substantial grants from the state.

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.

All have been restored

A number of the stave churches have been poorly maintained. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage therefore started a stave church restoration programme in 2001. The main purposes was to maintain the churches' historical value for posterity and their value as historical and economic resources for local communities. The programme was completed in 2015. All 28 churches have now been restored.

The work has been carried out in cooperation with the church owners and other local partners. The knowledge that has been gained in recent years of traditional building skills and materials has been vital. The church buildings have been the main focus of this work, but decorations and art work as well as the surrounding landscapes have also been taken into account.

Fire protection

All 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.