The Sorry Story of Fantoft Stave Church

One of the “must see” sights of Norway is a stave church.  Sited all over Central and Southern Norway, they are timber structures that date back to Medieval times.  They are noted for their steep, multi-layered roofs.  Their name comes from the word stafr (stav in modern Norwegian), referring to the load-bearing posts that are integral to their construction.

Fantoft Stave Church is situated about 3½ miles to the south of Bergen and can be reached by a tram from the city centre and a short walk.

Given that stave churches date back to Medieval times, you would be forgiven for thinking that Fantoft seems to have weathered quite well and looks quite new.

Fantoft Stave ChurchIn dact, Fantoft Stave Church is new.  Originally built around 1150, it stood until 1992 when it became the subject of an arson attack and was burnt down.  It was the first of some 50 church burnings in Norway during 1992 and 1996 which were mostly carried out by members of the black metal scene, an extreme subgenre and subculture of heavy metal music.

Varg Vikernes, a black metal artist who had just released his first album, was eventually arrested and charged with burning down four churches, including Fantoft.  He was also charged with the murder of Øystein Aarseth, the founder of the Norwegian black metal scene.  Vikernes was found guilty of murder and of three of the arson attacks, but found not guilty in relation to Fantoft.  It is generally accepted that he was the attacker, however, and Vikernes himself said that “the church was burned as an act of retaliation against Christianity for placing a church on sacred Pagan grounds”.  Most sources claim Vikernes to be a Satanist, though this is something he denies.  He was sentenced to 21 years, the maximum sentence in Norway.  On the day of his sentencing two further churches were burnt down.

Of some 1200 stave churches that were originally built, only 31 remain standing in Norway.  Of these, 9 were the subject of attacks during this period.

Vikernes escaped from prison in 2003 but was recaptured.  He eventually served 15 of his 21-year sentence before being released on parole.  Within a week of his release a church in Våler, Hedmark was burnt down.

Restoration of Fantoft Stave Church was begun soon after the attack in 1992, and the newly built church re-opened in 1997.

Fantoft Stave Church

Date of Visit:  26 July 2014

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Fantoft Stave Church:   N 60° 20.360 E 005° 21.200

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