Hedalen Stave Church may be the oldest of its kind in Valdres today. It comprises an unusual amount of catholic items and among these a reliquary. Only a few of these can still be found in Norway. The church dates back to around 1163, and coins from King Sverre’s era 1177-1202 have been found under the floor. It is in use as a regular parish church. The west-facing portal features dragon and vine decorations from the late 1100s. These dragons symbolise the evil forces you leave behind before you enter the place of worship. The reliquary is the most treasured item in the church. It is made out of copper-gilded wood, and dates back to around 1250. The figures featured are Christ, St.Mary, St.John, St.Jacob, St.Thomas (Becket), St.Olav and St.Peter. Norway has only a few such reliquaries left. Its original reliquary casket is still intact, and is the only one of its kind. The Hedal Madonna (sculpture of St.Mary), dating back to the mid-1200s, is one of the most stunning pieces of medieval ecclesiastical art in Norway. Originally, the sacrament house was part of the triptych. Changes to this gothic triptych were probably made in 1699, and it was painted in 1769. Its crucifix dates back to around 1260–1280.The Romanesque font is made out of soapstone, and has a cover dating back to 1250.
In the sacristy, a bearskin is hanging on the wall. According to legend, there was no one left in Hedalen after the Black Death. A hunter found the church in the woods and shot a bear in front of the altar. But there were still people living in Hedalen, and maybe the bearskin was just the vicar ’s somewhat unusual rug in front of the altar.
Getting there by car:
Follow E16 from Oslo to the north end of the lake Sperillen, where you turn left on county roads 243 to Hedalen.
The stave churches in Valdres
In Norway, the period most often referred to as medieval times is the era from the christening of the country, starting with the battle at Stiklestad in 1030, to the Reformation in 1537. During this period, Norway was a Catholic country. The first churches that were built had no foundation, and poles and boards were dug directly into the ground. After a while, the woodwork would start to rot from underneath, and the churches had to be replaced. The building technique, which was common in Northern Europe and Russia, was developed further and improved until the style we today consider as typical Norwegian was achieved. In Norway, one of the most important improvements was to raise the walls from the ground and place them on waterproof foundation logs known as "syllstokkar". The churches became more resilient, and due the combination of this new technique, the climate and excellent building materials, many of them are still standing today. It was during the period from 1150 to the Black Death in 1350, the new building technique was developed. Historically, we know that there have been 18 stave churches in Valdres. Still we have 6 of Norways 28 stave churches.
The old pilgrim route from Hedalen Stave Church to the St.Thomas Church at Filefjell has now been reopened and way-marked. Walking the approx.162 km long route will take 7-8 days. The road leads past the stave churches in Hedalen, Reinli, Lomen, Høre and Øye, as well as the stone churches from medieval times in Ulnes, Mo and Slidre. You can join organized tours each summer, or walk by yourself.