The stave churches constitute one of the most elaborate types of wood construction which are typical of northern Europe from the Neolithic period to the Middle Ages. Christianity was introduced into Norway during the reign of St Olav (1016-30). The churches were built on the classic basilical plan, but entirely of wood. The roof frames were lined with boards and the roof itself covered with shingles in accordance with construction techniques which were widespread in Scandinavian countries.
Among the roughly 1,300 medieval stave churches indexed, about 30 remain in Norway. Some of them are very large, such as Borgund, Hopperstad or Heddal churches, whereas others, such as Torpo or Underdal, are tiny. Urnes Church was selected to represent this outstanding series of wood buildings for a number of reasons, which make it an exceptional monument:Its antiquity: This church, which was rebuilt towards the mid-12th century, includes some elements originating from a stave church built about one century earlier whose location was revealed by the 1956-57 excavations.
The exemplary nature of its structure: This is characterized by the use of cylindrical columns with cubic capitals and semicircular arches, all of which use wood, the indigenous building material, to express the language of stone Romanesque architecture.
The outstanding quality of its sculpted monumental decor: On the outside, this includes strapwork panels and elements of Viking tradition taken from the preceding building (11th century). In the interior is an amazing series of 12th-century figurative capitals that constitute the origin of the Urnes Style production.
The wealth of liturgical objects of the medieval period: This includes Christ, the Virgin and St John as elements of a rood beam, a pulpit of sculpted wood, enamelled bronze candlesticks, the corona of light, etc.
Excellent conservation of a perfectly homogeneous ensemble: The embellishment of the 17th century (1601 and c. 1700) and the restorations of 1906-10 preserved its authenticity completely.References:
The Kalozha church of Saints Boris and Gleb is the oldest extant structure in Hrodna. It is the only surviving monument of ancient Black Ruthenian architecture, distinguished from other Orthodox churches by prolific use of polychrome faceted stones of blue, green or red tint which could be arranged to form crosses or other figures on the wall.
The church is a cross-domed building supported by six circular pillars. The outside is articulated with projecting pilasters, which have rounded corners, as does the building itself. The ante-nave contains the choir loft, accessed by a narrow gradatory in the western wall. Two other stairs were discovered in the walls of the side apses; their purpose is not clear. The floor is lined with ceramic tiles forming decorative patterns. The interior was lined with innumerable built-in pitchers, which usually serve in Eastern Orthodox churches as resonators but in this case were scored to produce decorative effects. For this reason, the central nave has never been painted.
The church was built before 1183 and survived intact, depicted in the 1840s by Michał Kulesza, until 1853, when the south wall collapsed, due to its perilous location on the high bank of the Neman. During restoration works, some fragments of 12th-century frescoes were discovered in the apses. Remains of four other churches in the same style, decorated with pitchers and coloured stones instead of frescoes, were discovered in Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk. They all date back to the turn of the 13th century, as do remains of the first stone palace in the Old Hrodna Castle.
In 2004, the church was included in the Tentative List of UNESCO"s World Heritage Sites.