The new church is only a replica, but to the hundreds of worshipers and tourists who made their way through the forest to reach it, the structure is just as important as the 850-year-old edifice that stood on the spot five years ago.
Nearly 300 people showed up for an August consecration service for the rebuilt Fantoft stave church, outside the coastal city of Bergen, Norway. The building holds only 66.
"There was a feeling of victory," says Arne Droi, a staff member and guide for the church. "It was a very happy day for everyone."
Everyone, that is, except perhaps those responsible for burning the church to the ground. On June 6, 1992, an arsonist poured gasoline on the tarred pine walls of the church and set it ablaze. In 20 minutes, the Viking-built structure had collapsed into charred remains.
SATANISTS BLAMED: Police and the owners of the church attribute the fire to Varg Vikernes, a Satanist-nationalist musician serving 21 years for murdering a rival musician and for setting four other church fires.
"People got very angry and very sad, but a lot were saying we shouldn't be angry because then the Satanists would have won," says Droi. "We wanted to show that they can destroy the church but not the message."
Norway's stave churches are the country's most recognizable national treasures. Built by the same carpenters who built the great Viking ships, they meld Norse imagery—such as dragon heads, snakes, and vines—with Christian symbols. Only 28 of the churches, which numbered between 800 and 1,100 in the twelfth century, remain.
In all, 22 historic churches have been destroyed by arson since 1992, including Holmenkollen Chapel, where the late King Olav V and his family had attended. The epidemic grew so rampant two ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.