Sunday, June 10, 2007

The churches of old Bergen

Monuments from a powerful past

Bergen has more medieval buildings preserved than any other Norwegian city. Among them, there are three large churches dating back as far as 900 years. Most houses in Bergen have, throughout its history been built in wood. The city has therefore experienced many large fires and this has effected the old churches as well. They have been rebuilt and extended during the last 900 years and are today living memories from the city's long and glorious past.

Mariakirken (Church of Saint Mary) Built 1140-1170

Mariakirken is the oldest building still standing in Bergen dating back to the mid 12th century. It is situated close to the old fortress. It burnt down in 1198 and 1248. From 1488 to 1766 it was the church for the German merchants in Bergen, and until 1868 there were still sermons held in the German language in the church.

Today it is probably the best example of Romanesque architecture in Norway. The south entrance has the best preserved Romanesque style gate in the country

Mariakirken has some exquisite pieces of art. The pulpit, of Dutch origin, was a gift from Bergen's German merchants in 1676 and is made from exotic materials as tortuous-shell. The wonderful altar was made in Lübeck in Germany late 15th century, depicting scenes from heaven and from the birth of Christ.

Sadly, as the church was closed when I planned to visit it, and I missed its beautiful interior. For the historically interested tourist, Mariakirken is an important sight to visit, in order to understand Bergen's beautiful past.

More on Mariakirken on

Korskirken (Church of the Holy Cross), late 12th century

The church dedicated to the Holy Cross, was built during the second half of the 12th century and has been effected by the fires of 1198, 1248, 1413, 1582, 1623, 1648 and finally the big fire in 1702.

It is a cross shaped church, but the two arms of cross was added later in its long history.

The southern arm was built in 1615 as a gift from the Danish noble Knud Urne, and the northern arm with a beautiful gate was a gift from the noble Jens Juel and his wife in 1632.

From 1530 it served as parish church for the locals and for the garrison at Bergenshus fortress.

The present tower was built in renaissance style during the last decade of the 16th century.

The interior of Korskirken. None of the lavish decorations you will find in Mariakirken. White stone walls and a dark wooden roof and very few ornaments. It was open for prayers and reflections, and I sat down and enjoyed the silence.

More on Korskirken at

Domkirken (Bergen Catedral), built late 12th Century

This church was dedicated to Norways patron saint, Saint Olav, and was built before 1181, when the usurper King Sverre took refuge in the church during a battle.

Domkirken has also been affected by many of the fires that have ravaged old Bergen. After the fire in 1248, it was rebuilt as church for the citys Franciscan friars. After the fire in 1270 it was rebuilt by the king himself, Magnus Håkonsson Lawmender, and it is claimed that he was buried in the church. No royal grave has, however, been detected within its walls.

A franciscan monastery was connected to Domkirken, and King Magnus Lawmender himself is said to have been educated by the franciscan friars here.
In 1537, after the Lutheran reformation, the church dedicated to Saint Olav, was made the cathedral of Bergen, and seat for the local bishop.

The Church at Holmen had, at this point, burnt down, and the Cathedral was extended. The photo on the left shows how the church has been extended. The gothic style stone building, with its unique architectural features and the newer extension in contrast to this.

The interior of the Cathedral. The strange thing here is the extension on the right side of the church. Many medieval churches are basilicas, with one nave, and two smaller aisles on each side separated by columns.

Here there are only one nave and one aisle, the latter built for the first time around 1600. Domkirken then burnt down three times, during the large fires in 1623, 1640 and 1702. The tower was erected in 1725 and a new aisle was built during restoration work 1880-1883.

You find the interior much like the one you find in Korskirken. Dark roof and white stone walls. But it feels much darker and mysterious. There are an impressive organ, here as well, with a large wooden exterior.

In the entrace area you find an impressive collection of paints of the bishops that has resided in Bergen.

More on the catedral on

And these are just the few of the churches that are left...

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And more sights...

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