It seems at first thought strange that, in a rock-ribbed land like this, most of the buildings should be of wood. The fact is that though building stone could be easily quarried, the limestone necessary for mortar is rare (see, this stone wall is laid without any mortar), so it is easier to use timber from the omnipresent forests. These pine walls are dark and reddish, with pitch, which has been rubbed into the wood to pre-serve it from decay. The dry air of this province where we are now is favorable to planks and timbers, so, if an old farm-house or a country church like this escapes accidental destruction by fire it may stand for centuries. Against fire the people in such a neighbor-hood are, of course, helpless. There are no fire-engines outside the few large towns, and water-buckets are of little use in a serious emergency.
Comparatively recent repairs make this curious, unpainted structure looks almost modern, albeit strange in design. Those ugly patches of window glass are necessarily modern. Between seven and eight hundred years ago, when this church was built, only a century or so after the energetic missionary work of Saint Olaf, glass was little used in Norway; probably it was only a very “dim religious light” that entered by small unglazed openings in the wall to show the faithful where to kneel in prayer. But here the stay-at-home Norsemen of this region did gather for worship during the times of the Crusades, while some of their distant cousins, the descendants of Viking forefathers, were taking part in those great Holy Wars under the French banner of Philip Augustus and the English banner of Richard of the Lion Heart. (How the pious souls of that time would have marvelled if anybody could have foretold for their benefit the way in which messages now flash through the air here overhead, along those insulated wires!)
The plan of the quaint old timber church (a stavkirke the Norwegians call it) is really more simple than at first appears. Imagine both of those two lower roofs taken away, together with what is under them, and we should have just a tall, three-story structure, forty feet square, gable-roofed, with a lower gabled structure (the chancel, 25×30 feet) added at the east end. Then imagine how the floor of the church might be enlarged all around by the width of an aisle, a row of wooden columns taking the place of the solid wallthat roof which runs around the building, just below the big windows, covers such an aisle. The lower-most roof of all protects a curious sort of piazza which is not connected with the interior of the church except by way of the entrance doors. It is an odd detail of mediaeval design almost never repeated by modern buildersthey say it was intended as a shelter for worshippers who had to come long distances and could not precisely time their arrival. On the whole, the ancient building has a close family likeness to the picturesque edifice from Gol that we saw in the park at Christiania (Position 11). Here the dragon-heads projecting from the gables are not quite so conspicuous and elaborate. They remind one of the queer, evil-looking monsters in stone that adorn Continental stone churches of about the same period. They probably had originally some meaning with regard to the expulsion of evil spirits from the interior, by virtue of the holy Presence thereina picturesque reminder of the mediaeval faith.
Sunday services are held here still and farmers’ families come from miles around. The church bell is not in that tower above the roof, but in a detached belfry a few rods distant across the way. The farmers tie their horses in sheds near by and then pass in decorously under that red-tiled gate beyond the post-boy. Husbands and wives part at the church door, for good manners require that men and women shall occupy different sides of the house, the men at the right, the women at the left. The altar stands, of course, at the east end ; a low railing separates it from the rest of the church, and behind it is a raised seat for the bishop when he comes. Both bread and wine are given to communicants at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but the bread is in the form of wafers. The Lutheran pastor wears a long black gown with a stiffly starched ruff of white around his neck, and the theology he expounds is pretty nearly what it was in Luther’s daythere is hardly a country in Europe where Protestant orthodoxy is more staunchly conservative in matters of doctrine. The prayers, the Scripture lessons, the hymns, the sermon, are all in the familiar native tongue, but they together constitute a service which seems long indeed to a youngster whose aching legs dangle from the hard wooden seat of the pew. No wonder if repressed Nature now and then asserts herself, boiling over in the form of a childish quarrel like the one Bjornson describes in his country story called Synnove Solbakken.
Mrs. Tweedie’s Winter Jaunt in Norway tells about coming here to this very church in a season of deep snow.
Now let us look again at our map of southern Norway (Map 2). About twenty miles south from Hitterdal Church we see the upper end of a long, crooked lake, the Nordsjo. The lower end of the lake has an outlet into the sea. From that upper, northern end it is possible for a small steamboat to follow up from lake to river and lake to river, by a long chain of waterways reaching far up into the heart of the province of Bratsberg. It is true that now and then a stream is met proceeding so boisterously on its way over a steep incline that a boat could not breast the current nor brave the rocks. In that case Scandinavian engineers have cut huge staircases in the rock alongside the tumbling stream and constructed gates across the stairs, then diverted part of the water into the new channel, forming a canal where the flow can be mechanically controlled.
If we take our stand at the spot which the map marks 24, we can see with unusual clearness how such a piece of engineering is practically utilized. Notice that the red lines’ show we shall be looking up the course of a small stream.