The current stone church in Hemse dates mainly from the 13th century. However, about a century earlier there was a stave church built at the same location. The surprisingly well-preserved stave church was found by chance under the floor of the stone church during a restoration in 1896, where the wooden planks of the church had served as an earlier floor. The wooden church, known as Hemse stave church, is the most well-preserved early stave church found in Sweden. There have been plans to erect a replica of the church somewhere near its original location.
The stave church was probably replaced by the presently visible Romanesque stone church as it became too small for the congregation. The nave and choir were built first, and the tower was added later.
During the aforementioned restoration the church was rather insensitively restored inside. A later restoration was carried out in 1962–63.
The church is a relatively homogeneous Romanesque edifice. Inside, it is decorated by medieval frescos. The oldest of these are in the tower, and depict centaurs assaulting thetree of life. Under it are two inscriptions in Latin. In the choir and the apse are depictions of the Last Judgment dating from the 14th century and in the nave, frescos from the middle of the 15th century depicting the Passion of Christ and two saints: Saint George and the Dragon and Saint Martin. There is also a rune inscription on the western wall of the choir, a repetition of the futhark or runic 'alphabet'.
Among the furnishings, the triumphal cross from the end of the 12th century is noteworthy. The baptismal font has a Romanesque foot but a later (14th century) basin. The church bell is from the first half of the 15th century.References:
Steinvikholm Castle is an island fortress built between 1525 to 1532 by Norway's last Catholic archbishop, Olav Engelbrektsson. Steinvikholm castle became the most powerful fortification by the time it was built, and it is the largest construction raised in the Norwegian Middle Ages.
The castle occupies about half of the land on the rocky island. The absence of a spring meant that fresh water had to be brought from the mainland. A wooden bridge served as the only way to the island other than boat. Although the castle design was common across Europe in 1525, its medieval design was becoming obsolete because of the improved siege firepower offered by gunpowder and cannons.
The castle was constructed after Olav Engelbrektsson returned from a meeting with the Pope in Rome, presumably in anticipation of impending military-religious conflict. As Archbishop Engelbrektsson's resistance to the encroachment of Danish rule escalated, first with Frederick I of Denmark and his successor Christian III of Denmark, Steinvikholm Castle and Nidarholm Abbey became the Catholic Church's military strongholds in Norway. In April 1537, the Danish-Norwegian Reformation succeeded in driving the archbishop from the castle into exile in Lier in the Netherlands (now in Belgium), where he died on 7 February 1538. At the castle the archbishop left behind St. Olav's shrine and other treasures from Nidaros Cathedral (Trondheim). The original coffin containing St. Olav's body remained at Steinvikholm until it was returned to Nidaros Cathedral in 1564. Since 1568 St. Olav's grave in Nidaros has been unknown.
From the 17th to 19th century, the island was used as a quarry and some of its masonry was sold and removed from the site. This activity was condoned by the Danish-Norwegian authorities as a way of eliminating a monument to the opposition of the Danish–Norwegian Union.
Steinvikholm fort is owned and operated today by The society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments. The island has been the site of the midnight opera which details the life and struggles of the archbishop. The opera is held in August annually. The opera is organized by Steinvikholm Musikkteater since the beginning in 1993.