The Stave churches of Norway were built from the 11th and 12th centuries and are evenly spread out in the southern part of the country. They are now among the most picturesque buildings of Norway and attract many tourists. The Heddal Stave Church (picture) from the 13th century, is probably the most famous of its kind.
Most of our familiar stone churches were built on wooden churches, once common in Europe. Fires, invasions and the development of new architectural styles made these churches increasingly rare to the point where they are now found only in a few European regions. From Norway to Romania, here are eight areas where this fragile heritage can still be admired.
Before the Operation Vistula (1947) forcibly “reorganised” the region, the Carpathian Mountains were populated by various Slavic communities of Orthodox and Greek Catholic faith. These communities built churches (tserkvas) made of horizontal wooden logs, easily extracted in this leafy region from the 16th to the 19th century.
The wooden churches of southern Małopolska (south and south-east Poland) are a group of Gothic wooden churches built in the 15th and 16th century. These buildings, erected by noble families, have all retained their religious use.
The churches of Maramureş (north western Romania) show the diversity of designs and skills adopted in the construction of wooden churches in the region. Built between the 17th and 19th centuries, these churches, with their interior frescoes and atypical bell towers, inspired the construction of the Bârsana monastery complex.
The wooden churches of the Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia bear witness to the diversity of the region's inhabitants throughout the centuries. Built between the 16th and 18th century, these churches are examples of overlapping Latin and Byzantine cultures.
In the Great Lakes of the Champagne region (eastern France), a group of wooden religious buildings stand out from the stone churches usually found in France. Between the 15th and 18th century, lack of good quality stones but abundant forests explain why wooden construction proliferated in this region.
In 17th-century Silesia (western Poland), churches were built under the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), ending the bloody Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. In the interest of peace, Silesian evangelicals were allowed to build three Protestant temples in Silesia. These wooden churches, of which only two remain today, are commonly called "Peace Churches".
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795), that roughly comprised contemporary Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine was home of the largest Jewish community in the world. This community, mainly Ashkenazi Jews, erected monumental wooden synagogues as early as the 16th century. Sadly, most synagogues were burned in Pogroms and most recently during the Second World War.