The stunning stave churches of the Midwest

And one bonus stave church in an unexpected place.

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Created by Destination Strange - September 25th 2017

Stave churches are pretty iconic attractions in Norway, and it's not hard to see why. The ornate, elaborately carved Medieval wooden churches are kind of incredible to look at. Once spread out across Scandinavia and even into eastern Europe, the remaining authentic ones mostly exist in Norway. But, if you don't have time to book an international trip, there are a few lovely replica stave churches, mostly scattered across the upper Midwest, where many Norweigan immigrants to America settled. From massive recreations to tiny, gingerbread house-looking stave chapels nestled in the woods, these are fascinating little gems to explore, especially if you want to take a mental trip back to the end of the age of Vikings.

Probably the mist impressive American replica is the Gol Stave Church Museum. It's actually a full-scale recreation of the famous, 13th-century Gol Stave Church now located in Oslo. Fun fact: The town of Gol was going to demolish the original Gol Stave Church in the 19th century, but the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments and King Oscar II had it moved from Gol to Oslo, where it remains in the private air museum run by the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It appears that Gol regretted their decision to get rid of the now-famous church; the town's theme park now has a replica of the church.

But back to the Minot, ND replica. It's part of the Scandinavian Heritage Park. When you tour it, make a point to examine the four corner posts. As the most important and biggest posts in the church, they're the most ornate, and each represents one of the four gospels. The rest of the Heritage Park is worth checking out as well. It contains a 25-foot-tall Dala horse, a Danish windmill, a Finnish sauna, statues of Hans Christian Anderson and Leif Erickson, and tons more.


Rapid City, SD

Another stunning stave church is Rapid City's Chapel in the Hills. This Lutheran church is also a replica of a real-life church; specifically, the Borgund Stavkirke in Laerdal, Norway. It's a fantastic match, from the firs used and the intricate beams to the peak roofs and the intricate woodcarving (especially around the door). As you enter the church, you really feel transported back to another time. It's closed in the winter, so plan accordingly!

The site also contains a traditional Stabbur, a grass-roof storehouse which contains a gift shop, an authentic 19th-century cabin used by a Norwegian immigrant gold miner that serves today as a museum, and a meditation trail winding its way through the forested Black Hills landscape.


Moorhead, MN

Moorehead, MN is home to the unique Hjemkomst (pronounced Yem-komst) Center, as well as a significant Scandinavian population. The center's crown jewel is the Hjemkomst Viking Ship, built by a local man in the 1980s and sailed all the way to Norway as a tribute to the region's heritage. It's now on display, along with the Hopperstad Stave Church. This is a full-scale, 72-foot-tall replica of the original Hopperstad Church in Vik, Norway. The carvings, which feature Viking and Christian themes, were donated by a local craftsman who made them a true labor of love. Make sure to note the ambulatory; the traditional covered walkway was designed to allow lepers participate in communion.

Door County, Wisconsin is famous for being home to Al Johnson's Swedish Butik, with its signature goats that like to hang out on the traditional grass roof and classic cuisine. But, it also has its own stave church, the Washington Island Stavkirke. Also based on the Borgund Stave Church, this replica is special to the community, because locals worked together to build it. The carved dragon heads, the forested prayer path, the detailed wooden altar panels, everything was a labor of love for the community. It's definitely a spiritual experience that evokes reverence for the past.


Baileys Harbor, WI

Wisconsin is also home to the Boynton Chapel, modeled after the Garmo stave church at Maihaugen in Lillehammer, Norway, although I think it looks just like a gingerbread house, myself. It was built by a couple, Winifred and Donald Boynton, during the 1940s as an addition to their summer estate, Björklunden. Björklunden, which translates to "Birch Forest by the Water", is currently operated by Lawrence University. You can only tour it during the summer season, but it's worth it to stop by, especially to see the lovely hand-painted frescoes. And, as with many of these stave churches, it's a popular spot for weddings.

Info on St. Swithun's Stave Church in Steuben Township, Indiana is slim, but it's stunning-looking. Plus, there's something magical and fairytale-esque about the idea of stumbling across a church like this tucked away in a forest.


Photo Credit: Flickr/Paul Hudson

Epcot World Showcase

Ok, so Orlando isn't exactly in the Midwest... but the Norway Pavilion at Epcot is kind of awesome. It's one of the newer pavilions and was dedicated by the then-crown prince of Norway, Harald V. It boasts the detailed stave church replica, in addition to a Norwegian restaurant and a bakery. Shops peddling trolls, Norse god figures, clothing, and more are done in authentic architectural styles... and it doesn't hurt that this is the place to be for all things "Frozen".