Hedal Stave Church

Sør-Aurdal, Norway

The first reference to the Hedal Stave Church is from 1327. The original church was a much smaller single nave church built second half of 12th century. The west entrance remains from the original church. The front portal is one of the oldest, most richly ornamented and among the most beautiful in the whole country. It takes the form of three winged dragons, one on each side of the arch and pilasters of the entrance and one above, all elaborately intertwined in a tendril and leaf pattern.

The remodelling and expansion of original building into a cruciform church is believed to have been completed in 1699, although some sources claim 1738. Restoration work was done during 1902 under direction of Carl Berner. During the restoration work, the previous sacristy was replaced with a new choir, and the new parts were enclosed in an ambulatory.

Within the church there is also a reliquary, made of wood in ths shape of a miniature church (called a chasse) with gilt-brass mountings and with scenes from the Bible and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, possibly a clue as to whose relics the reliquary was originally made to contain. Like the stave churches themselves the reliquary is ornamented with dragon-heads on its gables, a feature which several Norwegian medieval reliquaries share and which might have been originally inspired by similar dragon-heads on the silver gilt reliquary of St. Olav on the enshrined on the high altar of the Nidaros Cathedral. This reliquary was the principal source of inspiration for coat of arms of Sør-Aurdal. Another source of inspiration for this coat of arms was the Reinli stave church. Also preserved in the church is the wooden litter for bearing this reliquary in processions, as well as a brass censer with Limoges enamel and a wooden pax-board.

The soapstone baptismal font, with its conical wooden lid, is of gothic style and is still in use. On a special mount on the wall of the church is a statue of the Virgin Mary, crowned and dressed in a golden robe lined with vair and holding the similarly crowned and robed Christ Child enthroned on her lap. The statue dates from the early thirteen century as does the wooden tabernacle in the form of a church. The Hedal church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary and this statue originally stood on the principal altar in the apse in front of a polytych painted with scenes of her life, which could be closed over it during times of fasting. This polytych was repainted in the Baroque period and now forms the altarpiece, in front of which is displayed a medieval crucifix of Christ on the cross in the shape of a stylized tree of life. Both the statue of the Virgin and Child and the crucifix are among the most beautiful works of medieval art to survive from the Norwegian Middle Ages.

The Virgin and Child statue has been recently restored by the Norwegian Historical Museum and after much controversy, over whether it stood remain its collection, it is back in the church, safely placed on a special mount. There was also a replica of the made at the same time as its restoration in 1990 which is placed on display if weather conditions makes the original's safe storage necessary.

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Founded: c. 1160
Category: Religious sites in Norway

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