In the Middle Ages, there were probably more than 1,000 stave churches in Norway. Today, only 28 remain, including Urnes stave church, which is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

© Terje Rakke / Nordic Life AS

A stave church is made of wood, and the construction is made out of poles ("staver" in Norwegian), hence the name. Most of the remaining stave churches in Norway were built between 1150 and 1350. In the middle ages there were similar types of churches all over North-Western Europe. In Norway there was a tradition for using wood in artwork as well as in constructions, and this lead to the development of a unique technique that the stave churches are a perfect example of. The decoration is a fascinating mix of both Christian and viking symbolism.

Due to the Black Death and the reformation, many stave churches disappeared. In 1650 there were around 270 stave churches left, and during the next 100 years 136 of them disappeared as well. Today only 28 of them remain - many in Fjord Norway.

Norway's oldest stave church is Urnes stave church in Luster in the Sognefjord area. The church from around 1130 is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and belonged to a rich family. It is richly decorated.

Borgund stave church in Lærdal (around 1180), also in the Sognefjord area, is the most visited and most photographed church. It is also the stave church that has been the best preserved, and several runic inscriptions have been found on the walls of the church.

© Sverre Hjørnevik

Other stave churches in the region