The story of Norway’s Fantoft Stave Church is less like something out of a fairytale and more out of a nightmare. Or, perhaps a far-fetched Hollywood dark comedy. We’ll start this post by sharing that story, and continue by sharing photos of Fantoft Stave Church, and tips for visiting while you’re in Bergen.
In June 1992, Fantoft Stave Church was burned to the ground. Arson was suspected, and eventually, Black Metal musician Varg Vikernes was charged with the crime. Vikernes, an advocate of white nationalism and Neo-völkisch movements, was ultimately found not guilty of burning Fantoft Stave Church.
This is despite Vikernes placing a photograph of the church’s burnt shell on the cover of the 1993 EP Aske, for his one-man band, Burzum. It was also despite Vikernes being quoted as saying he knew who did it, and that it was Black Metal’s retaliation for Christians desecrating pagan graves and burial mounds centuries earlier. He went on to state, “For each devastated graveyard, one heathen grave is avenged, for each ten churches burnt to ashes, one heathen [temple] is avenged, for each ten priests or freemasons assassinated, one heathen is avenged.” I guess you could say this story has a ‘happy’ ending, though…
On May 16, 1994, Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the arson of three churches (but not this one), the attempted arson of a fourth church, theft, storage of 150 kg of explosives, oh yeah…and murder. The full story even more interesting and befuddling than my brief synopsis, but before you go down that rabbit hole (as I did), be weary of where it might lead you.
Unfortunately, the story of this arson and a reprehensible ‘musician’ is as interesting as Fantoft Stave Church gets. The original Fantoft Stave Church was built at Fortun in Sogn in 1150, a village near Sognefjord. Following the threat of demolition (as was, apparently, common in Norway at that time) the stave church was moved to Fantoft in 1883.
After it burnt down, it was rebuilt in 1997, and includes the original crucifix, which survived the fire. It no longer enjoys Norwegian historical landmark status, but is still viewed as a faithful representation of the centuries-old stave church style.
From that perspective, Fantoft Stave Church is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not really historical, and the extent to which it’s even a reconstruction is debatable. When looking at older photos (including this one from 1873), it’s clear today’s church looks very different from what used to exist.
Still, it’s an interesting and unique structure, and one that does appear to be emblematic of the stave church style. These churches offer glimpses into Norwegian history and culture, and showcase the overlap of traditional Norse mythology and Christianity in Norway.
Moreover, many historical landmarks have been rebuilt numerous times over the millennia, including a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sure, you’re likely to experience a bit of disappointment upon learning that houses in your subdivision are older than this church, but would you realize that if no one told you? Does it really matter that much?
This is one of the few remaining stave churches in Norway that is accessible without a car, so depending upon where your itinerary in Norway takes you, the Fantoft Stave Church might be your only shot at seeing such a structure. If that’s the case, we recommend a visit to Fantoft Stave Church.
We visited the Fantoft Stave Church because (to us) a stave church is the ultimate icon of Norway. After years of seeing one at Epcot, we really wanted to see a “real” stave church in person. Little did we know that the stave church in Epcot is actually a decade older than this one, and probably every bit as authentic.
Again, that’s not to diminish this experience.
Fantoft Stave Church is definitely neat. Its cool wooded location is also a highlight, as it feels like you’re stumbling upon a secret fairytale location hidden in the forest. The environment around the church was probably the highlight for us, to be honest.
Even though Fantoft Stave Church is easily accessibly by public transit, it is not technically in Bergen. It’s in an outlying suburb that’s can be reached via the exceptional Bergen Light Rail (there’s a station near the Funicular station). Get off at the Fantoft Station, and it’s about a 10-minute walk from there (signs make it easy to find).
Some resources you’ll find (and perhaps even Google Maps) will recommend getting off at the Paradis Station, but Fantoft is better. The walk is about the same distance either way, but from Fantoft, it’s clearly marked and is not as steep of a walk. Be sure to have cash for admission.
There are numerous walking and hiking paths around Fantoft Stave Church, which offer lovely walks through the woods. One of these that we highly recommend has a viewpoint overlooking the church. We highly recommend going up to this spot, potentially for a picnic. (I’m bad with directions, but you should be able to find it pretty easily by looking at the photo above and reverse-engineering it when standing by the church.)
Overall, Fantoft Stave Church is a point of interest in Norway that we recommend to some people, but with the reservations listed above. While accessible via public transit, it’s still not easily accessible, and the time investment in the commute is going to be far longer than how long you’ll spend here. If you have the chance to see Gol Stave Church in Oslo, that’s probably the better way to get your stave church fix during your trip to Norway.
If you’re planning a visit to Norway, please check out my other posts about the beautiful country. (More coming soon!) I also highly recommend Rick Steves Snapshot Norway and Eyewitness Guides Norway to determine everything you should see and do while there.
Have you visited Fantoft Stave Church? What do you think of the crazy made-for-Hollywood story about its arson? Does this stave church interest you as a place to visit? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!