This beautiful and rustic interior is the original house of worship in the village of Olden, Sogn og Fjordane, in the north of Norway. I find this beautiful and so evocative of the history and culture of Norway so I just had to share it. The raw planking of blond wood, simple balustrades, rudimentary pews and the old portraits above the doorway are absolutely the essence of 18th century Scandinavia. This photo was taken from the altar. The aspects of folk life in Norway in this period have fascinated me since I was first exposed to them on a trip to Oslo in 2009. A church like this one would have been the spiritual and community center of a small town like Olden, which even today has a population just under 500. This is a cruciform church, very simple in design yet functional. It was completed in 1759 and remained the only church in the area until the 1930s when the “New” Olden Church was constructed.
Norway in the mid-18th century was one of the true backwaters of the world. It was probably the poorest country in Europe, a possession (until 1814) of the Danish Empire, until it was ceded to Sweden. Aside from its wealth in fish–an industry with roots going back to the early Middle Ages–most Norwegians lived on the subsistence level, husbanding animals and what few crops would grow in the rocky soil. Yet in this forbidding landscape a very vibrant, learned, expressive and beautiful culture took root, and places like this were at the heart of Norwegian life until the modern era.
In addition to this wonderful photo I found an even cooler one of the same church, a full 360-degree panorama by the same photographer. It wouldn’t fit as a header for this article, so if you’d like to see it, click here, and you can see not only the altar but clear views of some of the carving (including a Virgin Mary) and the pews, which are very interesting. Really amazing!