Hvalsey Church (Hvalsø Kirke) is the ruins of an old Norse church, which is situated in the fjord of Hvalsey (Qaqortukulooq). The architecture seems very related to similar Norse buildings from the 14th century. The church is in the region which the Norse namedEystribygð, the Eastern Settlement, when the Vikings settled in Greenland in around 985. There are burials under the walls of this church from earlier phases of use but older churches have not been identified at this site. The Hvalsey church is mentioned in several late medieval documents as one of the 10-14 parish churches in the Eastern Settlement. The church was still in use in 1408.
The church ruin is the best preserved building from the Norse period, and is remarkably well built from ashlar stone, which is the reason why it survives. The Icelandic churches from the same period are all gone, because they were mostly built from timber or grass turf.
The stones are carefully laid and fitted. Some of the stones weighs between 4 and 5 tonnes, and some even more. Mortar was also used, but it is not known if it was used between the stones or only as plaster on the outside walls. The mortar was made from crushed shells so the church would have been white when built. Qaqortoq means 'the white place', and the modern town of that name at the mouth of the fjord could have got its name by association with the church.
The church measures 16 by 8 metres, and the walls are around 1.5 metres thick. The window openings are wider on the inside; a detail not found inIcelandic churches, but well known in early churches in Britain which may have been the source of this building type. The gables stand about 5 to 6 metres (16 to 20 ft) tall, and were originally about 2 metres taller. The long walls are around 4 metres tall, and again have been taller. The roof was probably been made of timber and covered in grass turf. The foundation on which the church is built is made of the same material as the church itself, but the architect has failed to remove the grass turf. This is one of the main reasons that the church has sunk unevenly, so the walls no longer stand completely straight. A restoration of the church has been done, but there has been no attempt at rebuilding, only the prevention of further decay. The government of Greenland has applied to have the church approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Church of Hvalsey features in the last document relating to the Norse settlements in Greenland. It is a record of the wedding on 16 September 1408 of the Icelanders Thorsteinn Olafsson and Sigridr Bjornsdottir in the Church of Hvalsey. After this, contact was lost with Norse Greenland, although the Eastern Settlement is believed to have persisted down to the 1450s if not longer. 315 years later, in 1723, Hans Egede was the first European to see the place again when he travelled south trying to find any surviving Norse. He described the church ruin in Hvalsey and made a perfunctory excavation. According to his description, the ruins were in a similar condition at that time as they are today.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.