Before Christianity reached Valdres the folk had their heathen gods and hov (temples) at which they worshipped. When King Olav brought Christianity they rejected the strange God of whom he spoke and only through force did they become Christianized. King Olav caused churches to be constructed and appointed preachers to serve in Valdres. The churches were hastily built and soon went to ruin, but the Valdresfolk had accepted Christianity by now and constructed new churches, mostly stave churches.
The Valdresfolk were not the only ones who rejected the Christian god, however. The strange "haugefolk" (underground or invisible people) and the "jaetten" (jyger-giants) of the mountains also fought this strange god and religion.
0. Jorgens, who was born and reared in Reinli reminisced in "Samband" of December, 1920, about the sagas relating to the giants and haugefolk and the Reinli church.
Jorgens wrote, "The church builders often risked both body and soul when they were building churches. The giants never worked in daylight, but at night, and the builders could tell many stories about their night work.
"When Reinli's church was completed folk gathered to worship and while the pastor was on the pulpit preaching there came a loud sound of a lur (an ancient horn) being played. It filled the church so no one could hear the preacher's voice. They sprang from the church to see who could play the lur so beautifully. There they saw a massive creature, in human form, on the highest peak of Langeberg, who blew a clear and beautiful tune. The sagas say the melody was so harmonious and gripping that all who heard it never forgot it. This tune is always called 'Langebergslaaten'. Father and mother sang it as a lullaby. At weddings and other gatherings it was played by the fiddlers, and then called 'Lydarlaaten' (a listening tune).
"When the pastor came out and saw the giant he bade it leave. The giant only shook his free arm and made a fist at the preacher. Then the klokkar (sexton) noticed the pastor had forgotten to don the cross he wore at mass and quickly brought it to the pastor. When then ordered to leave the giant began to obey but before he disappeared he took a giant rock and threw it at the church. Had it struck the church it would have crushed it but the pastor raised his cross to guard the church, causing the rock to fall near Sagvolden, where it lies yet. The old folks called it a 'jygersten' in my youth."
Ola H. Sukke, long associated with the Reinli church, continued the tale in a hefte written about the church in 1980. "When the giant threw the stone a large buck came from behind and boosted the giant off the mountain to his death. The giant's hip bones were later used as bases for a stabbur on a farm in the area.
A stabbur was a building constructed on piling to make it vermin free. Some large stones at the farm Haslo, in the lower community, are said to have been thrown by the giant also.
"It has also been told that folk first built the church at 'Kyrkjevollen', a flat near the stream Reina. The mythical folk did not like this and one night moved it to where it stands today. And an old verse tells of this:
"Ho er gamal Reinlikyrkja, no,
ja, mange hundre ar,
Og huldrefolket flytte ho
til staden der ho star."
(It is old, the Reinli church, now,
yes, many hundred years,
And the huldrefolk moved it
to the place where it stands.)
Sagas also told of how people came from great distances to be freed of sin and sorrow or to seek healing from their ills. Many wedding couples came from other areas to be wed and blessed in this famous little church.
Various places in the area have names to support this saga. Just above the area is an old site called Brolops - (wedding) brotin. In the old days there was a large house here where the traveling bridal couple would remain before undertaking their often long trip home. Farther up the mountain leaps a stream named Guldrinbekken (the goldring stream). It received its name because a bride from Jolemyr threw her wedding ring into it.
The story is that a bride was a well-born Valdres girl who loved a boy who was of a poor family. Her father rejected this youth and chose a rich and haughty man as his daughter's husband. She obeyed her father's wishes and the bridal couple went to Reinli to be wed, accompanied by a large following of friends and relatives. The lady was married in a somber silence and the party wended homeward. When they reached the stream, which is now called Guldringsbekken, all dismounted to rest and eat. The bride stood silent among the others and, without saying a word, took off her heavy gold wedding ring and threw it out in the stream. Thus the stream received its name.
There is some question as to the Reinli church's age. It is supposed that a heathen temple which stood there was burned or torn down at the Christianizing of Valdres in 1023 and a new church was hastily constructed and dedicated. And a German archeologist theorized that the church was constructed on the site of a heathen temple. Professor Anders Bugge, who studied the churches in Valdres, places the construction of Reinli at between 1275 and 1300. Jorgens, however, has a different story. He wrote of meeting Eilef Bakkene, in Iowa. Bakkene and Ole Johnson were the carpenters who tore out and rebuilt the church's interior in the 1850's.
Jorgens wrote, "I asked him (Eilef) if he had found any carving giving the name of the builder and the year of construction. He answered that in the vestibule, on the wall, near the nails in the floor is the name of the builder, 'I think, and his name was Thord, and he is buried there. On the wall, not far from the large door was a figure which was entirely destroyed by our work, but both I and Ole Lurndal thought the date was 1157,' said Eilef."
Sukke expands on part of this. He states that in 1888 the archeologist Ingvald Unset found an inscription by the church door. Unset read it, "Her h(vili)r und(irSi)ra Thor(der) sem e(fna l)et Ki(rkju. Pessa nr", which he translated, "Her under hviler Sira Thord, som let pabygge denne kirke. Pater Nester." (Hereunder rests Sira Thord, who caused this church to be enlarged. Lord's Prayer.)
The nails Eilef Bakkene referred to are in the floor. Five iron nails showed the resting place of Sira Thord: two for the head, two for his shoulders, and one for his navel. Two of these are missing.
The Reinli church is a stave church, a one nave church. It differs from many in that the chancel and the apse are of the same width as the church itself. Sira Thord had an extension built to the chancel on the east side and an apse added. Perhaps the gallery was constructed at the same time (or it may have been original). In the 1950's the floor under the runic inscription was taken up and half a meter down Sira Thord's skeleton was found.
Through the centuries many changes have been made in Reinli. In medieval days the churches were bare of furniture except for a low bench around the walls - folk stood or knelt during services. TThe congregation took no part in the service - there were no hymnals, nor could common folk read. The church was dark where the congregation was but in the area near the altar were openings in the wall permitting daylight to penetrate. The rays of the sun and the light of the candles on the altar were to be representative of the hereafter in heaven.
When researchers removed the floor in 1971 they found ashes indicating an earlier church at the site had been burned. Under the ashes were found graves of men, women and children, in several layers. Evidence discovered indicates that the Reinli stave church is the third church on the site At this time, too, various objects were found under the floor, some getting there accidentally and others on purpose. Many coins were found, both old and new. One dated to about 1200. Pieces of bunad silver, metal buttons and beads of various kinds were found. The beads may have been from rosaries.
The area where the congregation was portrayed the darkness and emptiness of life on earth. When the Lutheran religion replaced Catholicism and hymnals were introduced more openings were made in the walls to let light through, and seating was installed.
All wood used in the construction of the church was shaped with an ax and draw-knife. A plane was never used. The floor had cracks between the boards through which objects could drop. When part of the floor was lifted in the 1850's there were found objects of cloth, wood, skin, coal, bone, chalk, glass and metal. Tiny doll forms were most common, according to Eilef Bakkene. Perhaps they were an offering or a magical defense against illness, misfortune or death. Bakkene said he regarded these objects as Satan's -
of a hymnal with metal closure, pieces of wood, small rolls of fabric bound together with thread, a roll in the form of a doll with a head formed of a copper coin may have been used together with a prayer when a child was ill. Early heathen beliefs were slow to yield entirely with the introduction of Christianity and these items found under the floor may have been offerings to an earlier god.
Originally the church's roof was shingled and treated with home-made tar. This had to be repaired frequently, according to the church accounts. In the 1880's the shingles were replaced with slate roofing. This work was done by one called "Slidringen" and his son, Kristian, according to Knut U. Odegaard. The roof was surmounted by a steeple with a 24 alen mast (an alen equals two feet).
Research by architect Ivar Bu disclosed that the spire was struck by lightning sometime between 1712 and 1723. The congregation then cut off the damaged part and attached the remainder to the church again. Thus the present spire is not as tall as it was originally. Atop the spire was a weather-vane with the date 1723. This blew down in 1958.
Originally the churches were considered property of the Catholic church. After the reformation they became property of the king and the state. Following the great war which ended in 1720 the Danish-Norwegian treasury was bare so king Fredrik IV sold the churches to raise money. Apparently Reinli was purchased by the Dolven family for in 1742 Guttorm Olsen Dolven sold property which included two Dolven farms and "that part of Reinli which he inherited" to his brother's son, Arne Olsen. Eventually the church became property of the congregation.
The church was cold in wintertime and there was talk of insulating and installing heating apparatus. A stove was installed and used at one time but later a chapel was built nearby, which is used in the winter months. This was dedicated May 27,1965. At the dedication however, prost Ingvar Odegard said, "The chapel is only a helper at the side. The Reinli stave church is the head church."
A complete restoration of Reinli took place in 1977-1979. The aim was to restore and preserve the character of the church as far as furnishings and decor was concerned.
The old organ. which dated to about 1805, was restored. At one time it was thought to have been built by Erland Landsen Fosholt, who was a blacksmith, clockmaker and gunmaker, and who made the first organ used in the Hedal church. Investigation later proved it to have been built in Toten. Some of the cabinet work on the organ is carving and painting done by Aslak Olsen Lie, who was born at Liabrenn in Reinli.
Not only is the organ from the Toten area but also one of Reinli's three church bells. This bell, dated 1641, came from the Baldishol church at Nes in Ringsaker. The last services at Baldishol were held March 3, 1878 and almost immediately afterward the church was dismantled and the properties sold.
At first Reinli had only a handbell but before 1645 there were two small bells which apparently hung in the steeple. Later the church received a small stupul (belltower) in which the bells were hung. Sometime in the 1870's this was replaced by a larger stupul and entryway to the church grounds. This houses the three bells. The center one is the largest and is a gift from Reinlinger in America. This bell was cast by Stuckstede and Brothers, St. Louis, Missouri, according to the inscription and was given Reinli in 1888. The Baldishol bell, which is southernmost, bears the monogram of Christian IV and is dated 1641. The third bell, the northernmost, has no inscription but is believed to have been cast in England in the Middle Ages.
Reinli is the only church in Norway to have preserved all twelve "innviengskorsa" (dedication crosses). These were painted stylized crosses within a circle. In Roman Catholic churches when a church was dedicated the bishop brushed a holy oil on these crosses as a part of the ceremony. The twelve crosses were one for each disciple. The crosses were to guard against evil spirits and to show that the church belonged to God. They should also be a reminder that Christ suffered and died for mankind. If a cross was destroyed a new replacement could be made during restoration. Those at Reinli are all of the same age, however.
No one knows who constructed Reinli's pulpit but it is believed that Peder Aadnes of Fluberg did the painting. Church chairs are the work of Arne Bratene and Erik Sagbraten, according to Knut U. Odegaard. The baptismal font of soapstone had received a wooden base sometime during the centuries but at restoration got a suitable stone base made by the stonecutter Magne Enger of Aurdal.
The altarpiece may date to the building of the church but has been retouched. One panel shows Moses and the tablet with the ten commandments, another shows one shows Aaron, one shows Christ on the cross, another the sermon on the mount. In the center is the ascension of Christ to heaven. The altarpiece is on an old base covered with a red cloth bearing the Ole Anderson Hafton (1733).
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Last updated: December 26, 2016
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