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Hedal

Hedal Church

Reprinted with permission from the Budstikken, December 1976.

Lost for Centuries. ..
Hedal Stave Church is Rediscovered and Restored

In all of Norway there are about two dozen stave churches and of these five are in Valdres: Hedal, Reinli, Lomen, Hegge and Hurum (Høre). Hedal's history is as fascinating as any.

Hedal is one of the oldest churches in Norway but the date of its building is not known exactly. The antiquarian Nicolaysen believed it was built toward the end of the 1200's or early 1300's. On the other hand, Dr. L. Dietrickson finds the church first mentioned in 1327 but believes it is about one hundred years older. One professor, Indrebø, proposed that it was built in Inge Krogrygg's time about 1150 and that it is the oldest stave church in Valdres.

Originally Hedal was a single nave church with a somewhat narrower and lower chancel with an apse. Of the original, only the long west nave with its gallery and the wonderful west portal remain. The rectangular nave is undivided by pillars unlike the so-called basilica type stave church. In 1699 the old chancel was removed
and the church was enlarged and rebuilt as a cruciform church. In 1738 the present spire was erected and in 1902 the church was restored and extended with a new sacristy and a semi-circular apse being built.

In the old days Hedal, like Reinli, lay on the "thoroughfare" between northern Valdres and Ringerike and was in close contact with other communities. At the beginning of the 19th century, however, a road was constructed along the Begna from Adal to Bagn, and Hedalen was by-passed.

But also in the early days was there an era when Hedal lay remote and abandoned. When the Black Death ravaged Valdres in 1349 the entire population of Hedalen was decimated and the church became overgrown by forest. One day, years later, a young hunter invading the area shot an arrow at a bird, missed the bird but hit the church bell. He heard the beautiful sound and followed it--and discovered a church. Being a believer in the "underground people", as everyone was, he thought the church must belong to them.. He threw his flint over the church to ward off the supernatural powers of the underground folk and to make the church disappear. The place where the flint fell is still called Ildjarnstad.

After performing this ritual the hunter gathered courage to enter the "mythical " church. There he found and shot a bear which had made its den by the altar. Later, when the church was again used, the bear skin was hung on the wall-one story says part of it was used as a floor mat in front of the altar. Eventually the remains of the skin were preserved behind glass to prevent souvenir hunters from taking all of it.

The nave at Hedal, a part of the original church, is of the greatest interest. It is entered through a magnificent portal richly ornamented with dragon carvings. These are probably the same age as the church and are among Norway's most important works of art from the Middle Ages.

In Catholic times it was a votive church to which people gave gifts along with their prayers for help. Thus the church was soon equipped with valuable fittings and furniture. Most noteworthy is a beautiful 13th century Madonna, said to be one of the most beautiful gothic statues in the country. Originally this stood on the high altar but after the Reformation it was replaced there by a large representation of the crucified Savior.

Other valuable medieval property includes a relic casket of gilt copper from the mid-13th century, a soap- stone baptismal font with a richly carved wooden cover, a carved wooden' osculatorium with runic inscriptions and an incense burner of French Limoges origin.

During the restoration in 1902 a hoard of 134 coins and 30 "brakteater" was found under the church floor. The coins date from the reigns of King Haakon V, Haakon VI, Ola
V, Erik of Pomerania Interregnum, 1448, Kristian I, Hans, Fredrick I, Gaute Ivarson and Erik Walkendorf. The oldest coins are from 1166, 1170 and 1205. The latest is a Hamburg shilling from 1764. The "brakteater" are thin pieces of silver stamped on one side, often with a crowned head. These coins lay in small heaps under the floor and this evidenced they were gifts to atone for sins or as a thank offering having been pushed through holes or cracks in the floor.

After the renaissance the church received a number of religious paintings: Among others are "Historie Om Den Quinæ Som Bedreff Hoer med de Siu Mend" from 1506; "The Rich Man and Lazarus" from 1623; "Communion", 1630; "Jesus in Gethsamene", 1674 ; "Jakobs drøm eller 'Himmelstigen"', 1701; "Communion", 1730.
At the side of the church stands "stopulen", the bell tower, called "klokehuuisit" in 1686. It is not known how old this is but it is believed to have replaced an older, smaller bell-tower where the large English bell from the 1300's hung.

Hedal has two pairs of bells. One pair hangs in the old bell tower by the church and one pair in the steeple. The oldest bell has the inscription "Nicolavs Anglvs Mefe cit", that is, "Nicholous, the Englishman made me". The youngest bell was cast by M. F. Skioberg in 1822.

There is a saga connected with the søsterklokke (sister bell) of the oldest bell. The story tells of how it was being sent to another church, perhaps Bagn, when it fell through the ice at Bergstjernet while it was being transported.

It is said that only seven
brothers can raise it - but they must not converse during the raising or the bell will again fall to the bottom. Seven brothers had at one time raised it to the edge of the boat when one of them exclaimed, "Thank God, now we have it up"- and immediately they lost their hold on it and the bell fell to the bottom again.

Because Hedal church was a votive church in Catholic times there were certain festive days observed. One was the so-called "Jonsøkmesse" or "Hedalmesse" held about Jonsok or St. Hans day, June 24. To this mass people came from great distances to pray, not only from Hedal but from all ofValdres, Hallingdal, Ringerike and elsewhere. Many brought gifts to the church. The festival lasted two or three days and sometimes degenerated into drinking, dancing, fighting, horse-trading and other unsuitable conduct. At Hedal there was also a "haustmesse" (autumn mass), Mikkjelmesse, September 29. At the fall mass conduct was much the same though there were fewer people present. It was as is said to about the St. Thomas mass, "Mangen kar blev dengd, mangen hest sprengd og mangei i møi krengd." These special masses came to an end in 1858 when the sogneprest changed the time and did not announce it until a day or two in advance, thus avoiding the crowds of strangers.

At these masses, old and young of both sexes met - sometimes to form friendships to last for life, or to get a mate. Therefore it was said, in the old days, that "they would go to 'Hedalsmessa' to find a mate." And to this day there is a saying that "one doesn't marry before he has been in Hedals church. "

And for many Samband members Hedal has meant baptism, confirmation, marriage and funerals for countless generations of their ancestors.

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