Address: Heddalsvegen 412, 3678 Notodden

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The Stave Church

The word «stave church» derives from the rods (pillars, called staves), which are a characteristic part of the construction. At a time, there was 1000 stave churches in Norway, today there are only 28 stave churches left. 

The church in Heddal is centrally located in the village, surrounded by large farms. Here it was easy to access both from the road and by boat from the river. The building material, ore pine, is found locally. Suitable timber for the construction was ready in the surrounding area. Like most churches, it is set up in an east-west direction.

Ancient sources tell us that Heddal Stave Church was inaugurated to the Virgin Mary on October 25, but the year has not been clarified. Year-ring tests show that the church must be from the mid-13th century, but some of the building material is from the Viking Age – in the 10th century.

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Youtube offers many videos about Heddal Stave Church. You can find some of them here.


The church is made of three parts, with the exterior gallery, the nave for the congregation, and the chancel with the altar. This design comes from the biblical temple of Jerusalem. On top of the pillars (staves), you can see carved faces. The symbolic meaning we do not know, but maybe they represent their ancestors from beyond?

The church has been restored several times. The theology of the Reformation led to changes in the interior. In the 17th century, church benches and a gallery were built, and a new altar was installed in 1667. Around 1850, a new comprehensive redevelopment was carried out by architect J. H. Nebelong. In 1950, it was decided to restore the church again, this time with the desire to return as much as possible to the original interior of the Middle Ages.


The outer parts of the stave church must be regularly treated with tar. The process is the same as has been for centuries. The wood tar is a dark, viscous liquid that is formed by a dry distillation of pine wood in a kiln. Dry distillation involves heating with limited air access where liquid with terpenes and resin is excreted. 

The timing of when the tar is applied has an impact on its effect and durability, and is often carried out late in the autumn. Charcoal is added at the tar processing for longer durability.

Kim Richard Bjørndalen - Tjæring av Heddal Stavkirke (høst 2015)

Tarring roofs

During application, the tar must be worked well into the surface.


The tar must be heated in a copper boiler to 60-70 degrees before it can be applied. If you do not have a copper boiler, a copper plate is placed in the bottom of the boiler.

With and without coal

Photo from 3 years after application of tar on the roof. On the left is the roof surface that was added coal, and to the right where it was tarred without coal.