Norway – The old Church of Gol

Direction—Somewhat south of east. Surroundings—Paths, shrubbery and scattered buildings in the park.

When Bayard Taylor, the author of Northern Travel, came to Norway fifty years ago, this curious timber church was in its original place, two days’ journey from here, up in the Hallingdal. He mentioned it as standing there. It was only a few years ago (1875) that the building was carefully taken down, brought over here to Christiania and put together again as we see it now, to remain a perpetual reminder for city folks of the picturesque old fashions of their sturdy forefathers.

The bewildering multiplicity of those shingled roofs looks at the first glance as if the plan of the old twelfth century builders must have been intricate, but it was really quite simple. The lowermost roof covers a sort of arcade or piazza extending around the body of the building, but not connecting with the church interior except by way of that front door. The actual interior is only a small oblong space—it could never have afforded room for more than fifty worshippers at once. The altar occupies the chancel, which we see extending at the left (east) end. Of course that window in the gable is a modern addition—no such window glass was used in Norway in the days of Sigurd the Crusader—when the structure was probably built. In old times the interior must have been a place both dark and chilly for saying one’s prayers. Without any doubt many a spiritual tragedy was wrestled with under that queer, dragon-decorated roof—the Hallingdal people in old times were famous, even in rough-and-ready Norway, for the imperiousness of their tempers and the ferocity of their feuds. It is said that wives attending neighborhood feasts and merrymakings in medieval times used dutifully to carry with them their husbands’ shrouds, so easily possible it was that a feast might end in a funeral.

When this church was first built, the Christian religion had been established in Norway less than two hundred years. The picturesque old pagan faith of earlier times had a strong hold on the people and they gave it up with reluctance. It would not be strange if more than once a worshipper, lingering in that covered piazza after service for shelter from a summer thunder shower, wondered whether, after all, it might not be the noise of Thor’s hammer that made the thunders roll up and down the valley !

The change from Catholic to Lutheran Protestant Christianity was made in the sixteenth century, in the time of King Christian III.

Evergreen trees like these that shade the grass around us are quite typical of Norway. The country is well stocked with deciduous trees too, but pine, spruce, larch and hemlock of many species are most characteristically abundant, as we might expect when we remember the latitude of the kingdom. At the present time nearly one-fourth of the entire area of the country is forest-covered.

Only a few minutes’ walk from here, within this same park, is a summer villa built fifty years ago for King Oscar I and called in his honor Oscarshal. Now for many years it has been open to the public, and the view obtainable from its tower makes it a favorite objective point for townspeople and tourists. The map marks with a red 12 the spot where we are to stand. Notice what the diverging lines tell about the reach of our outlook—it is evidently to be out across the harbor and over part of the city.