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Arland O. Fiske: The historic Tingvoll church in western Norway

“Remove not the ancient landmarks,” warned the prophets of Israel. The Tingvoll Church in Nordmore, western Norway, is a classic example of an old site that continues to have meaning in the 20th century.

The Tingvoll Church lies alone the route between Molde and Trondheim. We visited there some years ago. A “ting” or  “thing” was the assembly of free farmers and the “voll” is a grassy meadow. The farmers met there as the local legislative body. Tingvoll was in use for such meetings in the old Norse days, before Christianity came to Norway. It was the custom to build a church on important Viking sites to show the victory of Christ over the Norse gods. If you visit the stave church in Bergen, you will see granite cross on top of an old Viking mound.

Built in the 12th century, about 800 years ago, the Tingvoll Church was restored in 1929 by architect Sivert Glaerum from Surnadal, my ancestral community.

Constructed like a fortress, the walls are forty inches thick and have passages built into them.

Churches, like castles, were used both for worship and defense. It is believed that the site has a Christian connection since the days of King Olaf Tryggvason who died in 1000.

It was the furnishings that especially intrigued me. It contains a Bible from 1589 and candlesticks from 1624. The pews date to 1613. The baptismal font was done by artists from Nuremberg, Germany, and dates somewhere between 1400 and 1600. The chalice is pre-Reformation. The crucifix dates to 1664. On the west wall of the nave is the traditional ship that hangs in Scandinavian churches. This one is a model of a 17th century frigate, draped with Norwegian flags.

Carvings of the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are mounted on the pulpit and we believed to have been made by a pupil of El Greco. High above the ornately carved altar are statues of Christ on the cross and his sorrowing mother. A disciple is standing beneath. Noticeable to an American visitor is the absence of windows in these old churches and those that you see are small and high, as you would expect on a defense installation.

Outside of the white stucco-covered stone building is the typical country cemetery. On one tombstone from the 1300s is the inscription, “Here lies Ingeborg who married Anders. Pray for her soul.”  On top of the steeple is the weather vane, typical of pioneer Norwegian churches in America.

There is much more to the Tingvoll Church than fancy artwork from bygone days. The Nordmore area is famous for its music. It has its own history of folk melodies that have a beauty recognized all over Norway. Edvard Braein (1887-1957), an organist and composer, collected most of the living music from the Nordmore area before Norway became bombarded with American and British music. Now the tendency is to make everyone’s music alike by imitating whoever happens to be the current star.

An unusual opportunity for the people of the Midwest was held in the summer of 1986 when three musicians from Nordmore did a Minnesota-North Dakota concert tour. Members of the included soloist Dordi Bergheim. She requested this tour so she could sing “to her dear relatives in North Dakota.”

Ola Braein, is a classical harmonic player. He studied with Sigmund Groven who has performed for the Norsk Høstfest. Tor Strand, one of Norway’s leading young organists, is the organist in the Ringvoll Church. Henning Sommero, regarded as one of Norway’s leading young composers has done most of the musical arrangements. This music of Nordmore is to Norway what Negro Spirituals are to America. It’s the language of the soul

The mountainous interior of Norway was separated from the European centers of influence so that many of its traditions have continued to this present day. The Tingvoll Church is one of the ancient landmarks of Norway that still stands.

Next month: The Scandinavian Colleges in America

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.