Fantoft stavkirke, built around 1150 in Fortun, Sogn, Norway, during the great era of wooden church construction in the 12th Century.
By the 19th Century most communities were replacing their old stave churches with more modern, usually larger, structures, and by the end of the century most of the old buildings were gone. It is sad to have lost these monuments of an older era, perhaps especially the paintings and carvings, with their mix of Roman Catholic and Norse pagan images, that once decorated both the interiors and exteriors. But the people in the communities they served had grown tired of the work and expense of maintaining old wooden structures that were, in most cases, too small or too deteriorated to serve their main purpose — houses of worship for living communities. And perhaps these old structures and their elaborate decorations reflected a spirituality that no longer suited 19th Century Norwegian Lutheran religious beliefs.
The community this church originally served chose to replace it around the middle of the 19th Century. The Bergen businessman and politician Fredrik Georg Gade purchased the structure, thus rescuing it from destruction, and in 1883 moved it to his farm, Øvre Fantoft, in the community of Fana, Hordaland. Fana has since been absorbed by the city of Bergen. In 1992, nearly 110 years after Gade moved the church, it was destroyed by an arsonist’s fire, apparently a result of neo-pagan pique. The current building, said to be an exact replica of the original, was completed in 1997.
These pictures were taken 19 June 2001, a surprising sunny day in Bergen. We rode the bus from the city center, then walked from the Fantoft bus stop as directed by a sign beside the road. We walked for what seemed too long, most of the time up hill. Eventually I started wondering if we had missed a turn, so I asked a passing stranger. The sign had been correct; the church was still further up the hill, and so we walked on. Enthusiasm for this excursion began to wane among some of the party. Eventually we came to an area that seemed somewhat untouched by modern development, surrounded by large trees, and a dirt path led on through the woods to the clearing that held the church. The long walk had dampened, for some of us, our anticipation of seeing such relics of our Norwegian past, but when we reached the clearing what we saw seemed to encourage us (or me at least) to continue our trek to Hordamuseet when we left.
In 2001, when we visited Fantoft, some restoration work, or perhaps just maintenance, was still in progress — note the man on the ladder pitching the roof.