Heddal Stavekirke is Norway’s largest Stave Church. It was built in the 12th/13th century.
This church is an even more intriguing place once one hears the legend of its origin. The story goes that five farmers from Heddal named Raud Rygi, Stebbe Strånd, Kjeik Sem, Grut Grene, and Vrang Stivi decided to join forces and build a church for the town.
Raud Rygi was chosen to oversee the construction work. As he stood at the chosen site, worrying if he was up to the task, Raud was approached by a stranger who offered to help. In fact, the stranger went on, he could build their church in just three days — but he demanded an unusual fee.
The conditions of payment were that Raud was to bring either the sun or the moon from the sky, or to guess the stranger’s name. And if he could do none of these, then the stranger would cut out Raud’s heart and take that in payment instead. Raud thought it would be easy to find out the man’s name so he accepted the challenge. After all, how could one man possibly build a church in three days, anyway?
However, on the first night the stranger managed to bring all the stone and timber that would be needed. By the end of the second night the frame was complete and poor Raud was getting worried about the deal he had struck. He was a man of his word, and it seemed that he surely would have to forfeit his life for the sake of the church.
On the third day Raud was no closer to finding out the stranger’s name so he walked the fields, thinking up every name he could.
When he reached the hill Svintråberget, he heard a song coming from a rocky knoll:
“Hush, hush, little child;
Tomorrow your father Finn will come;
With sun and moon or a Christian man’s heart;
As fun and games for my baby.”
The answer to the riddle was clear — the stranger was Finn Fagerlokk (or Finn Finehair) a mountain troll who lived inside Svintråberget.
The troll Finn Finehair is also the pivotal character in other Nordic legends, such as the building of Trondheim Cathedral, also in Norway, and Lund Cathedral in Sweden.
Regular services are still held at Heddal stave church, and tours are available at other times in either Norwegian or English. Café Olea, stationed in the vicarage barn, and an open-air museum can be found close by.