stavkirke

A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota

The Borgund Stavkirke, located near Laerdal Norway, was built about 1150 AD.  In 1969, Americans of Norwegian immigrant descent created an exact replica in Rapid City, South Dakota.  They had the permission and architectural plans supplied by the Norwegian government and the help of a master carver in Norway.

stavkirke south dakota

The Stavkirke is entirely made of wood and joined together with wooden pegs.  There is not one nail holding the structure in place not even in the roof.

The carvings of snakes and dragons are a holdover from Viking beliefs that represent the battle between good and evil.  Dragons were believed to be good (which is why they were always on the prow of a Viking ship).  The Stavkirke has lots of dragons as well as crosses showing the merging of older pagan beliefs with Christianity in medieval Norway.

stavkirke

Inside the Stavkirke, the ceiling is constructed like an upside-down Viking ship hull.

stavkirke interior

The front door has replicas of the original door furniture – a ring and a lock.  The ring was both a door knocker and a sanctuary ring in medieval  Norway. If an outlaw could hold onto the ring, they would be spared being killed.  Of course, he could also starve to death holding onto the ring since no one was bound to help him.

stavkirke lock

On the grounds is also a Norwegian settler’s log cabin which was relocated from nearby Keystone, South Dakota.  The immigrant, Edward Nielson, came to the the Black Hills in 1876 to prospect for gold.  Originally from Hole, Ringerike in Norway, he was 33 when he arrived in South Dakota.

stavkirke log cabin

The statues are a bit cheesy but this house has stuff typically brought by Norwegian immigrants.  It is an amalgam of a typical early settler’s house and not everything shown was available in each house.  The immigrants brought some tuff from Norway when they emigrated which was usually whatever they could fit into a small trunk like the one shown below.

settler's trunk

Being master craftsmen, the immigrants were able to put their woodworking skills to good use by making what they needed for their new life, starting with a house itself and then all the interior items, such as beds, children’s toys and cooking utensils.

I found this painting of a nostalgic scene from Norway touching.  This immigrant painted this scene from memory and he would never see his old home, family or friends again.  The journey was arduous and expensive to undertake and visits home would have been an impossibility. I didn’t have such worries when I moved to England because I knew I could visit my family and friends in the USA often.

settler painting

I am amazed at the courage it would take to pack your whole life into a trunk, leave everything you know behind and move to an unknown and somewhat hostile environment.  I don’t think I could have done it – could you?

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