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Stave churches were an important aspect of Christian architecture in north-west Europe. Most of the surviving medieval stave churches are in Norway with two exceptions: the late medieval church at Hedared, Sweden and the charch originally from Vang, Norway, which was re-erected in Karpacz in Poland in 1842.

Excavation has shown that the technique of stave church building developed from palisade type structures which were known from the Viking Period. A palisade construction involves self-supporting walls made of closely spaced earth-fast timbers which supported the roof. A later development used split logs which gave a smooth interior surface to the building. Excavation at the Urnes Stave Church in 1956 uncovered two previous churches, the first was a palisade type structure dating to the Conversion period. An earlier palisade type church was also discovered at Hemse.

Owing to the tendency of earth-fast timber to rot, the only palisade type structure that survives today is the 11th century church at Greensted, Essex in England.

In order to limit the problem of rot, the post technique involved setting the timbers on sleepers – the walls being supported by strong corner or intermediate posts.

The last development, stave construction, involved setting the entire construction on stone foundations and placing the poles on sleepers and the sill beams and wall plates being jointed at the corners. Excavations have shown that this technique developed as early as the 11th century.

Palisade technique
image: Wikimedia

Post technique
image: Wikimedia

Stave technique
image: Wikimedia

Greensted Church, Essex
image: David Beard


Stave churches fall into two main constructional types: Type A – Single-nave churches and Type B – Churches with a raised roof.

Type A churches have four heavy sill beams set on a low stone foundation. The sill beams are jointed at the corners, thus forming a rigid foundation. The staves (corner posts) are cross cut at the lower ends and fit over the corner joints, protecting them from moisture.

The top of the sill beam has a groove into which the wall planks are fitted. The last plank is wedge shaped and is rammed inro place. A grooved wall plate fits over the wall planks forming a ridged frame. The wall plates support the roof trusses, which consist of a pair of principal rafters and an additional pair of intersecting .scissor rafters.


Type A – Reinli

Type B – Borgund

Type B churches have four massive ground beams in the form of a , their ends protruding 1–2 meters from the lap joint where they intersect. The ends of these ground beams support the sill beams of the outer walls and form a separate horizontal frame. The outer walls support the roof over the aisles.

The tall internal posts which support the main roof above the central nave are seated on the internal frame of ground beams. These tall internal posts are interconnected with brackets and are also connected to the outer walls by the aisle rafters. Sill beams are inserted near the top of the posts to carry the upper walls, and the sill beams of these upper walls support the roof trusses in a similar way to type A churches.The type B churches form two distinct groups: The Borgund Group and the Kaupanger Group.

Further information about the different types of stave churches can be found on these web pages:
Type A – Single-nave churches

Type B – Churches with a raised roof.

mapThe map shows the location of Old Stave Churches in Norway. In the case of churches that have been resited, the original location is shown.
image: Wikimedia – (click on the image to enlarge)

For further information on the churches shown below, click on the name of the church under its image.