Progress along St. Olav’s Way: Fåvang to Sør-Fron, a tale of two churches
Christine Foster Meloni
Fåvang is a small town 51 kilometers north of Lillehammer. Very heavy fighting took place here and in nearby Tretten, Vinstra, Kvam, Sjoa, and Otta during the Norwegian Campaign in World War II.
The Norwegian drama-comedy Jonny Vang was filmed here in 2003. The film’s protagonist wants to breed earthworms but meets opposition from his bank manager who won’t provide him with the necessary funding for his venture.
I found the history of the town’s church interesting. It is sometimes called the Fåvang Stave Church but is not an official stave church. It was built in 1627 from pieces of demolished 12th-century stave churches. A unique feature is the contrast between its dark brown walls and bright white steeple.
I had the most terrifying experience of my pilgrimage at this point. I had to cross the Tromsa Bridge. The English traveler and scientist Edward Daniel Clark referred to it in his 1791 diary as a “remarkable bridge over a terrifying ravine.” As I walked across this bridge, I tried not to look down at the ravine and the Tromsa River 28 meters below!
Snorre Sturluson mentioned this bridge in his famous Sagas, written in the 13th century. The bridge was rebuilt in 1997. I must admit that it is a lovely little foot bridge!
Kvitfjell Ski Resort
Kvitfjell, which literally means White Mountain, was built for the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer, and it is now one of the most popular ski resorts in Northern Europe. For a thrilling simulated ski experience, watch the video at YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qml5mQ9W9fM.
Ringebu is a locality in the heart of Gudbrandsdalen that has a lot to offer—farms, river valleys, canyons, waterfalls, prairies, and mountains. To catch a glimpse of this municipality, watch the video of Syttende Mai here at www.youtube.com/watch?v=M51MGiE-J9o&feature=youtu.be.
Ringebu has one of the largest and most beautiful stave churches in Norway. It is definitely a must-see! While its interior and exterior have been updated, it still has the original nave. I was overwhelmed by this church’s beauty. I didn’t want to leave! You really must watch the YouTube video to see this glorious church. Go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iYveFTuTTY.
After visiting the church, I walked a short distance to the Ringebu Prestegård or Parsonage. It was built in 1743 and was the residence of the local priest until 1991. It now serves as an art museum. The most important works are the paintings by Jakob Weidermann, considered one of Norway’s most important Post-War Modernists.
I was not familiar with Weidermann before visiting the Parsonage. I must confess that I was familiar with very few Norwegian artists before this pilgrimage. To see numerous paintings by this interesting artist, go to this website: www.artnet.com/artists/jakob-weidemann/past-auction-results.
Dale-Gudbrands Gård Pilgrim Center (overnight location)
My next stop was the Dale-Gudbrands farm in Hundorp. It is now an official National Pilgrim Center with an information center, a hostel, and a pub.
Dale-Gudbrand was a local king in the 11th century. According to Sturluson’s Sagas, King Olaf (St. Olaf) met Dale-Gudbrand while he was traveling around to Christianize the country. He demanded that the king and all the other farmers in the area renounce Thor, accept Christianity, and build a church. Having no choice, they obeyed.
Pilgrim passports are for sale for 50 kroner at this Pilgrim Center. The passport is a precious souvenir. I bought mine at the Oslo Pilgrim Center but they are available also in the Pilgrim Centers in Hamar, Dovrefjell, and Granavollen. Pilgrims can request stamps at many different places along the way.
I’ve seen many beautiful and interesting churches along St. Olav’s Way, but this might just be the most interesting! Designed by Svend Aspaas, the same architect who designed the Røros Kirke, it was built in 1792.
This church is unique for two reasons. First, most churches in Norway were built of wood until the 1850s, but this one was built of stone. Secondly, it has an octagonal shape.
It was very expensive to build. Supposedly, wealthy German Protestants lived in this area and they wanted to replace the medieval stave church with a bigger church made of stone.
Another distinctive aspect of this church is that the minister performs a blessing or sending-out service for pilgrims that includes music with a Hardanger fiddle. Very impressive! You will have a real treat if you watch the two-minute video clip on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgOg_w7DdqI. You will see the interior of this lovely church and be enthralled with a concert of Hardanger and accordion music.
Hundorp used to be the busiest place in Gudbrandsdal but today the population is only 600 and it is a very quiet, rural town.
It is the perfect place for a pilgrim to stop and become refreshed. The mountains loom ahead on Olav’s Way!
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.