The 11the century Uvdal Stave Church is a classic example of the wooden structures found in Norway of the medieval times.
Stave churches are unique to Norway of earlier times. For, these structures are built almost entirely of wood. There are only a few left today. One such has been transplanted at the Folk Museum in Oslo. These small churches catered for the village congregations, comprising mostly farmers and sheep owners. At the stave church near Uvdal, people still get married and babies are christened or baptised.
The young English man, who explained the details of this church, himself got married here to the girl from Uvdal. This church from the 11th century, has been repaired or altered from time to time. Pre-Christian or pagan elements can be discerned even now; later it became Catholic. Now, it follows the Protestant faith.
The font, shaped like an hour-glass carved out of the tree trunk, belongs to the 11th century. Obviously, the present appearance of the church is quite different from the original one, with changes being made till the 19th century. Beautiful but a strange amalgam of architectural and decorative elements of many ages can be seen in one rich and harmonious unit.
The paintings on the wall and the ceiling reveal varied influences – Moorish, Islamic and Celtic. While the early paintings are mainly in yellow ochre and red, the later ones have used blue and red. The priest's home nearby now houses a school.
An excavation in 1978 revealed 500 coins under the floor confirming that the church existed in the 12th century. Two other coins found too confirmed this fact. To begin with, it was just a square room and a belfry with a central post and a small chancel with a semi-circular apse.
Before 1537, the nave was extended westwards. The painted ceiling near the entrance reveals the original size. There is an extra post for support under the remains of the wall that was removed; its shape is unusual with a four-leaf clover cross section. The original corner posts remain even now.
The apse had been pulled down and the chancel extended lengthwise by 1.5m, which was much narrower than it is now. On each side of the chancel arch are two demon masks under the ceiling, which indicate the original width of the chancel.
The paintings were done long after the construction, after 1537, that is, Reformation. They give an idea of the history of the church. Knud Jorgenson Winther, who was bishop during 1651-82 at Rollag, initiated renovations at Rollag, Uvdal and Nore. In 1650, the flat ceiling was built for the nave and the chancel. Six years later, the whole church was decorated for the first time. The lower portion of the wall had arches in Renaissance style. On the field above were written verses from the Bible. The ceiling was dense with vine-like patterns in ochre, red, grey and white.
In 1684, the chancel was extended to the present width. Floral patterns took the place of the Bible verses. The “Fall” was depicted on the chancel at that time. The plan was changed to cruciform during 1720s-30s when Augustus Flor was the Parish priest (1713-34). The pentice was pulled down and galleries were built in the limbs of the cross, along with a belfry and porch. Large openings were made on the longitudinal walls. Till 1770, the original pulpit paintings from 1656 were not touched, when portraits of four evangelists or apostles were painted; surprisingly there is a mix up of animal symbols of these men.
The last alteration was in 1819. At present, the doorway into the church is protected by a porch; it is not known whether it was carved when the church was new. It has motifs from Vosluneys. On the right side of the portal can be seen a carving of Gunnar in the snake pit, playing the harp and trying to put the snakes to sleep. On the left is carved vine-like motif issuing from the jaws of a beast. On the top is a dragon in combat.
In the porch, a portal has been preserved; this was outside in front of the door of the chancel facing south. We are told that originally it used to be between the nave and chancel. It is considered special due to its ornamentation with vines, though today it appears damaged due to exposure to rain and sunshine.
Light was let in only through the port holes until 1620, but now two windows serve the purpose. Pews were installed in 1624 for the congregation. It is said that in 1656 itself the pulpit and the altar were there, though when exactly they were put in is not known. There's a painting of The Last Supper behind the altar, done by a local artist which belongs to this time.
The crucifix was carved by a rural artist in the 14th century. It is interesting to know that a 30cm tall bronze and enamel crucifix made in the 13th Century, which came from Limoges in France, which is currently at the University Museum of National Antiquities in Oslo. Other valuables of the church are also kept there in summer. The dish from1757, which should accompany the wooden font, is seen at the new church on the main highway. A medieval chandelier hangs in the chancel.
Stave churches often had dragons on the top of the roof on the façade, though the one at Uvdal is an exception.