History.

It would be difficult to find monuments more typically Norwegian than our wooden Stave Churches.
They date back to the early days of Christianity in this country, and they were erected by an enthusiastic
people inspi­red by the new Christian Gospel. In structure the Stave Churches are among the finest
architectural achievements in Norway, being the result of excellent craftsmanship, age long experience in
handling wood as a building material never failing artistic sense, and deep religious feeling. 

We may find it strange that these chur­ches, so nearly perfect in construction could be created barely a
hundred years after the victory of Christianity over Paganism in Norway. It only proves that the new faith
had already at that time penetrated deep into the people's minds. 

The construction itself is ingenious. Every single piece of wood has its proper practical function in a cleverly
developed plan. Storms and tempests have been successfully defied through seven or eight centuries. At the
be­ginning of the nineteenth century we could still count about 180 of these Stave Churches in Norway.
However, through an unfortu­nate failure to appreciate their historic value the number has been depleted,
and counts today only 28.

 The foundations of the church consist of a framework of four enormous beams resting on a low stone wall.
On this frame stand the pillars supporting the roof, giving the church a dignified appearance.
The oldest Stave Churches had many pillars, as Fantoft Church too had in its original form. But experienced
builders came to realize that the number of pillars might be reduced without impairing the strength. The outer
edges of the support­ing beams, which can be observed, resting on the stone wall, have been joined together
by a beam of heavy dimensions. Into this beam the «staves have been sunk, thus forming the outside wall.
The staves are overlapping, and finally they find support in the four huge comer pillars, which give the whole
building the stability required. So important are the
functions of the comer pillars and the sup­porting beams,
that if they should start decaying, the whole church would be doomed to ruin. To safeguard them against
humidity an outer corridor was built around the church proper. This corridor also served as a shelter for the
congregation after the service, when they would meet friends and relatives living far away.

From the exterior wall a pitched roof rises to the upper part of the pillars, and provides support from the outside.
In the interior the pillars are often joined by horizontal beams that tend to give a feeling of height. All the parts
are joined together in a wonderful unity, giving elasticity coupled with toughness. In stormy weather the building
will yield slight­ lye to various stresses, but will never break, behaving like a good ship in heavy seas.

The timber used for the churches is always of selected quality, specially treated, and of imposing dimensions.
The chancel is semicircular, an imitation of the apse of the stone churches.
Originally the bull’s eyes high up under the roof were the only source of light to the church.
The roof is covered with shingles. They are cut by hand, and in such a way that the grain in the wood serves as
tiny spouts for the water. They overlap in a neat pattern, and provide a most effective roof covering.

At the time when the Stave Churches were being constructed, the craft of wood-carving had reached a very high
standard. The orna­mentation of these houses of worship is a fine example of this special art. The porch and the
ridge of the roof were always richly carved into an ornamental feature. The motives were animals and leaves.
Some figures known from pagan times were re­tained, but with new significance to them. The serpent and the
dragon signified the evil spirits which tried in vain to enter the church, but instead had had to flee from the place.

Fantoft Church was built at Fortun, a little village at the head of the Sogne-fjord, the district said to be the
homeland of the Stave Churches. Like many other timber churches of the same type, the Fantoft Church dates
from the twelfth century. In the year 1879

 The village decided to build a new church, and the old one was sold for removal, which unfortunately was the
normal procedure in those days. A citizen of Bergen, Consul F. Gade, realized the importance of saving the old
building, bought it, and transported the material to Bergen. Fantoft, a beautiful spot with lovely surroundings,
about 5 miles south of Bergen, was chosen for its new site. In 1883 the church was rebuilt, or rather
re­constructed after the plan of Borgund Church in Sogn. In the year 1916' the Church was acquired by the late
Jacob Kj0de, ship-owner, who took a great interest in the preservation of this venerable house of worship.
The church is today the property of his family.

History records several changes that were made to the church. What actually happened through the middle
Ages is difficult to trace, but it is generally assumed that the church retained its original appearance until about
1650. We then find that many changes had taken place up to about 1700. It may be mentioned that in 1689 a
new pulpit was erected. In 1692 the lectern, the altar-piece and the chancel were furnished with various
ornaments, and about the year 1700 the nave was decorated.

The furnishing has always been of a modest character, and out of the little there may have been in the old days,
not all has been moved with the church. In the Bergen Museum is kept a relic shrine from the beginning of the
thirteenth century. The ancient bells from the same period, or may be even earlier, were transferred to the new
church at Fortun. One of them has this inscription: X PC. VINC. X PC. REGNAT. X PC. IPAT.
(Christus vincit, Christus reg­nat, Christus imperat.) - In this connection it may be of interest
to mention that
Norway is believed to possess more bells dating from the middle Ages than any other country.

The Crucifix
over the entrance to the chancel is a fine

Specimen of medi­aeval art. The two wooden figures in the chancel probab­ly date from the late Middle Ages,
and represent the Apostles John and Peter. It has not been established whether they be­long to the original
furnishing of the church.

 The Font is made of soft soapstone, obviously from the time when christening by immersion was practiced, in the
twelfth century. When the church was pulled down, the font was found on a nearby farm, where it was being used
for feeding the pigs. The baptismal basin now in use is more recent, being 500 years old, with an inscription
difficult to decipher.

 The W all Paintings in the nave represent scenes from the passion of Christ, and have been done in water color
of the 17th century.

 The Woodwork on the pillars at the en­trance to the chancel is imitations of similar decorations in the Hylestad
Church in Setes­dal. They represent scenes from the saga of Sigurd Favnesbane.

 

The pew to the right in the chancel bears the inscription 1668. The other seats of the church are new. Originally
there were fixed seats only along the walls. The congregation knelt on the floor during the service.

 

On the north wall there is an inscription:

 «AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA DOMINUS TECUM.»

 

On the same wall there is a very elaborate wrought-iron mounting on the oldest door of the church.
A small green stone, probably a relic from a pilgrimage, hasbeen mounted in the doorpost.

According to tradition the opening on the wall of the chancel is a lepers' window, through which the lepers were
allowed to follow the mass and participate in the Holy Communion.

Outside the church is a stone cross, from the days when there were not yet sufficient churches.
The time immediately following the introduction of Christianity about the year 1000. The clergy then used to
gather
 the people for mass and baptism round such stone crosses. Many names of places and farms have still
the word «cross» attached to them, a reminder of the cross of worship once standing there.