Hopperstad Stave Church is assumed to have been built around 1130 and still stands at its original location. The church is owned by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments.
In 1997, a series of samples from the logs were collected for dendrochronological dating of the church. A total of seven samples produced an estimate for the construction ranging from 1034 to 1116 and resulted in no definite conclusion. The only possible conclusion is that this is one of the oldest stave churches still standing.
About 700 years after its construction the church was abandoned and its exterior stripped. The church was in very poor condition for many years until the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments purchased the building in 1880. Using the Borgund Stave Church as a model, architect Peter Andreas Blix reconstructed the church between 1884 and 1891. During the reconstruction carved sections were found beneath the floor which indicates that the new church replaced an older church, which was probably built in the latter half of the 11th century.
The church had not undergone any major changes until the 17th century. At that time the nave was lengthened to the west, and a bell-tower was added above the new extension. To the east a log section was added, and a new vestibule to the south with its own entrance.
The largest addition came to the north with a log construction, named the new church (nykirken). The constructions were finalized in the 18th century, but then removed in around 1875. The font is placed under the medieval baldaquin. The walls are painted by numerous quotes from the Holy Scripture in vivid colours.
The church is a triple-nave stave church of what is known as the Borgund-type. It has three portals, and the western portal is an excellent example of Middle Age wood carving. The motifs are of a romance character, often associated with European influence. The nave is a raised central room with an aisle around it, and the choir is apsidal and narrower than the nave.
The church contains an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and 14th-century ciborium with a baldachin on the north side. The ciborium has four sculptured heads, that of Christ with a halo, a queen, a king, and a monk. The roof of the baldachin bears a painting of the birth of Christ.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).