NEARLY 800 YEARS OLD AND STILL STANDING TALL

Heddal Stave Church.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

I`m talking about the biggest Stave Church in Norway, where some of the wooden structures have survived since it was ready in the mid-1200s — some 800 years ago — which is quite impressing

Due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic that hunts us all, I decided to travel in my homeland this summer. I went back to my roots in Telemark, to visit the Church where some of my relatives lie buried. The Amazing Heddal Stave Church.

Once seen, never forgotten.

Look for yourself

A chair from the church.
Photo: Anders Kvåle Rue

Some features in this monumental building are breathing Viking age. Did I hear someone saying WOW? — Yes it`s true, in this once a Roman Catholic Church, there are traces of the old paganism. The dragonheads, for instance.

Furthermore, there is a legend telling about the erection of the church. And fasten your seatbelt, please — it was a troll who built it. Just three days of construction!

Oh, by the way, Finn Fagerlokk(Fairhair) is his name. He could not ever after stand the sound of church bells, so he moved along with his family to Himing (Lifjell). In case you need an extremely efficient house builder.

Another pagan features in this church, is Sigurd Fåvnesbane, the dragon slayer, and the shieldmaiden Brynhild.

The heads at the top of these columns are also pagan decorations.
Photo: Christian Barth
Old taggers, using runic letters.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020
A door decorated with Viking style patterns.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
A thick layer of tar for preservation.
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Though it can feel magical with the troll, he owes us an explanation of how he managed to build this church, in just three days, which have lasted for almost eight hundred years.

Psst, here you have a clue for the durability. Tar galore.

Another thing – he cheated. It demanded years of preparations. He had to choose the right trees in the forest, take the bark off them, let them bleed resin while they were still growing. And finally, after several years of waiting, he cut them down – with other words: A time-consuming prosses beyond our modern people’s imagination. That is the real story. Thankfully for us, someone cared, thank God.

Heddal Stave Church in its surroundings.
Tom Thowsen 2020

The Sea of Beauty

In the Norwegian archipelago of Hvaler, in the fishermen’s outpost at Utgårdskilen, you can wander along the shore. Here you can watch their boats, or you can look at the open sea of Skagerak. See the lighthouse on Torbjørnskjær on the horizon. Take a bath if you want or sunbathe on the cliffs. It’s a beautiful world.

Along the pier at Utgårdskilen, the fisher boats and their equipment lie, ready to take off to the sea. This safe harbour is next to the open ocean, and here they also deliver the Catch.
Photo: Tom Thowsen
Hvaler and Utgårdskilen are situated less than two hours’ drive by car from the capital Oslo. Hence many of the capital’s citizens come here in their spare time. Some even have cabins here, even the royals and the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It’s well worth a visit if you visit Norway. Photo: Tom Thowsen
A sea of shells washed ashore. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Small fishes washed ashore as well, from the strong waves of the ocean, were now swimming in these shallow ponds. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen
View to Skagerak. In the horizon, you can see these objects lined up from the left: Akerøya, Vesleøya—and the tiny little thing to the right is Torbjørnskjær lighthouse. Photo: Tom Thowsen
Photo: Tom Thowsen

As a silent witness, carved to last forever, and shrouded in the mists of time, is it there:

With its 4 x 1,5 meters, this is probably the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. Its location is in South-eastern Norway. Today the rock is lying in the farm fields. At the time the carving was created, around 3000 years ago, this was a coast.

Photo: Thomas M. Hansen

A ship like this was 20 meters long and crewed by 24 warriors. On calm water, it could do 8 knots, 3,5 on the open sea. A crossing from Denmark to Norway could take 18 hours.

At this time, 2000 years before the Vikings, our ancestors had horned helmets. The Vikings had none.

Photo: Tom Thowsen
The farm fields in Skjeberg, in the vicinity of the carving. Three thousand years ago, most of this was beneath the sea. Photo: Tom Thowsen

Have you experienced a mental block?

In some situations, most of us have lost our memory. But this story from Norway is Extreme.

It is on 9 April 1940. Blücher, the second of five Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruisers of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, had early in the morning been destroyed by an old fortress in the Oslo fjord. This event, along with adverse weather conditions for the German planes, slowed down the invaders, well known for their «blitzkrieg,» and gave the Norwegian government and the royal family precious time to evacuate.

Out of the capital Oslo, crowds of people were running for their lives in the traffic chaos on roads northward, seeking shelter inland, trying to escape. Many on foot, but some in cars. It wasn’t easy to move ahead. In this turmoil, there were 26 civilian lorries, which has a central part in this story.

They were trying to save the national gold reserves — 48,8 ton of gold was on these lorries.

Let`s turn back the time a little bit. The threat of war had forced the government to make some security preparations. Since 1936-1938, the central part of Norway’s gold reserves was safety in Great Britain and the United States of America. All new gold to the States.

Besides incoming shipping, which was on its way from Cape Town, there were 818 crates of 40 kg, 685 crates of 25 kg, and 39 barrels of gold coins, weighing 80 kg each: a total of 53 tons in the Norwegian banks headquarter in Oslo.

It was a race against time

The loading started from the main vault of the Norges Bank`s headquarters in Oslo already the previous day, the 8th of April, and they worked continuously all night long and into the following day. The last lorry left at 1.30 PM, about the same time as German troops came marching in the streets of the capital. Some were aiming for the gold reserves — others for the government and the king.


The gold transport was top secret. Few, besides of the chauffeurs, knew what cargo the 26 civil lorries had when they retreated north. But the invaders took up the chase, just a few hours behind.
In the evening, the precious cargo reached Lillehammer, where they stored it into a bank vault. Only the bank director, Andreas Lund, had the code. In his head. In his memory.

Nine days later, it’s time to load the gold on board a freight train for transportation to Åndalsnes on the West coast of Norway. According to the plan, the transit will be by ship, to bring the gold safe out of the country.

It’s a very stressful situation, the Germans are closing in, and when Andreas shall open the vault, he cannot remember the code. It’s blank, a mental block. It takes him thirty, sweaty, painful minutes before he gets his memory back.

Okay, I stop there. Mission accomplished, but only barely. It was bomb planes and soldiers everywhere. But they did make it, thank goodness.
Lucky it wasn’t me. Poor, Andreas.