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and with scenes from the Bible and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, possibly a clue as to whose relics the reliquary was originally made to contain.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.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.