Fantoft Stave Church suffered a terrible fate in 1992 when it was burned down by Varg Vikernes, member of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and one-man music project Burzum. The war between Norwegian churches vs black metal in Norway began.
Fantoft was built in 1150 in the village of Fortun in western Norway. It was celebrating its 842nd year when it met its doom and was devastated into little more than a pile of ash. This was after the church had already survived the threat of demolition and was ultimately saved by being moved piece-by-piece to Fana, Bergen in the late 1800s.
After being a victim of arson, Fantoft’s burnt remains taunted the public by being used as the cover image for Burzum’s 1993 album “Aske”, meaning “Ashes” in English.
Black Metal and Church Burnings in Norway
Black metal is a genre of heavy metal known for its shrieking vocals, distorted guitars and members wearing “corpse paint” — black and white makeup used to appear dead or inhuman.
The black metal scene was erupting in Norway in the early 90s. But between 1992 and 1996, several black metal musicians and fans declared war on organized religion went to extreme lengths, burning down 50 Christian churches in Norway. Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen was the first victim and became a part of the world of dark tourism through church burnings.
The story of Varg Vikernes
Although numerous black metal fans waged “war against Christianity and Norwegian society” by burning down churches, Varg Vikernes was the main suspect in the arson of Fantoft Stave Church. Black metal musicians vs churches in Bergen sparked public interest. Police believed Varg was responsible because he was found guilty of burning down three other churches. But, due to an error in the justice system, Varg was never convicted of burning down Fantoft and rather than overthrowing the whole case, judges and jurors decided to not officially charge him.
As well as burning down churches, Varg and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous made plans to bomb Nidaros Cathedral. However, this never happened, as Varg murdered Euronymous during an argument over finances. Varg claimed it was self-defense and was sentenced to prison. A right-wing neo-Nazi extremist group had plans to break Varg out of jail, but they never carried them out. This led people to believe that Varg identified as a neo-nazi, but he assures people that he has no affiliation.
After serving 15 years, Varg, still an incredibly fear-mongering and hateful man, lives freely with his wife and children in France. He continues to create solo black metal albums and in 2019, a movie based on Euronymous’s life called Lords of Chaos was released.
Stave Churches vs Black Metal Views Today
Today, some members of the black metal scene still applaud the actions of the early 90s arsonists, although most believe the church burnings were pointless and that those who committed arson were just trying to be accepted into the black metal scene.
While most black metal bands weren’t political, satanic or racist in any way, the few that were really disrupted Norway through terrorist acts that will forever be associated with the genre.
Why people choose to desecrate historical buildings to prove a point and garner support is something I’ll never understand. I know that religion can be controversial and harm people, but I don’t think burning down historical structures is the best way to fight religion.
Stave Churches in Norway
A stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church and those remaining were built in 1150-1350. According to records, Norway was home to many stave churches, possibly as many as 1000. Today, only 28 churches remain scattered throughout the country and most are only accessible by car. One of the largest stave churches is in Heddal in northern Norway and legend says it was built in only three days.
Most stave churches didn’t survive the attacks and local villagers would remove salvageable pieces of wood from what remained and use them on their farms.
Fantoft Stave Church
My friends and I were visiting Norway and decided to check out Fantoft Stave Church, already familiar with its links to black metal and arson.
Fantoft Stave Church was rebuilt over the course of six years and was finally completed in 1997. The design stayed as true to the original structure as possible, with planks of wood from 400-year-old pine trees from Fortun forests used in construction. The planks and columns are pegged together in the traditional way, rather than using nails or glue.
Walking up to the church, we passed through a small forest of trees with roots that came up through the earth. We could smell the fresh, clean scent from the pine needles scattered all around the dirt-covered path and felt them crunch under our feet as we approached a tiny graveyard. Not long after, we stumbled upon the magnificence that is the Fantoft Stave Church, hidden in the middle of the woods.
The church is a made of dark brown wood with intricate designs that reminded me of the historical Norwegian ship we’d seen at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The outside was decorated with Norse symbols, such as dragon heads, delicately carved out of wood and believed to help keep evil spirits away.
Inside the Fantoft Stave Church
As we went inside the church, I expected it to feel like I was stepping back in time, but was sadly mistaken. While the outside of the church made it look ancient and fascinating, the inside was surprisingly modern. One original feature that remains is the crucifix. It was fortunate enough to survive the fire and had been fully restored and placed upon the altar. Light wood, Norse mythology-influenced carvings and a wooden Jesus that reminded me of King Friday from Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood filled the interior.
As Norway once had the most lepers out of any country in Europe, Fantoft has a Lepers Door built into the wall on the left side of the altar. Lepers would come through their dedicated door and receive blessings from the church since those infected weren’t allowed to enter like everyone else. Bergen’s Lepramuseet, a Leprosy Museum dedicated to the history of the disease in Norway, is another great place to learn about this period of history.
Although the inside of the church isn’t as impressive as the outside, I still highly recommend exploring the interior to truly get a feel for the stave churches of Norway’s past.
Visiting Fantoft Stave Church
Fantoft Stave Church is open seasonally from May 15th to September 15th from 10:30-18:00 daily.
Entry to the church costs NOK. 65 for adults, NOK. 50 for students and NOK. 30 for children.
Take the bus from Bergen to the Paradis Bybanestopp. Stave Church is a 750m walk from this point. You can plan your trip and book your tickets online.