Thursday, March 19, 2009

Urnes Church - Norway

Lately I have been reading "The Real Middle Earth - Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages" by Brian Bates. Tolkien is of course one of my favourites, so the combination of dwarves, elfs and trees taken from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths is a must, found in the book was one of the following similar photos....
one thing that has been nagging at my mind after our visit to Greensted Church, was the oldest stave church in Norway at Urnes with its beautiful World Tree carving - The Yggdrasil Tree.. and a bit of finger tapping bought up two beautiful photos by Gari-baldi on Flickr, and he had kindly licensed them under Creative Commons.....

This is part of the wood sculpture on the north wall of the 11th century church at Urnes, in Sogn, Norway. The carving is exquisite, the deer under the tree is browsing on the foliage, and those lovely curving lines.

The oldest Stave church in Norway at Urnes

Brian Bates sees the Yggdrasil Tree as representing Sleipnir, the spirit horse of Odin, a great eight legged creature that takes him down to the otherworld. Bates works his way from the word Yggdrasil, Ygg being a nickname for Odin and drasil a word for horse. Odin of course famously hung from the tree for 9 days but it was during this time, a time of spiritual quest and dreaming that the tree transformed into Sleipnir. And Bates points out that the gallows in Anglo-Saxon times were also known as "a 'horse' upon which its victim rode to death".

Sleipnir carries Odin on his ride round the nine sacred cosmos of knowledge, Sleipnirs eight legs representing eight of the worlds, with Odin representing the ninth. Of course, Tolkien also had a great horse in the Lord of The Rings, this was Shadowfax, and there is a dramatic moment in the film, when the great army of Gandalf stands high on a steep hill, Shadowfax, gleaming white to the fore, and then they sweep down this impossibly steep hill to destroy the myriad trolls and terrible creatures on the plain below that are harassing the fort. Tolkien describes Shadowfax "as being foaled in the morning of the world". The tale of Odin's descent into the Lowerworld is for another day, it was a place that contained wisdom, but of course it also contained the dead spirits, which at that liminal time of the year allhalloween, would seep gently into our world, curling and spinning round the houses ;)

Detail from the Greensted Church

Detail from the Greensted church


  1. The Yggdrasil carving is really beautiful - I too have just finished reading The Real Middle Earth, a fascinating book. Have almost finished Brian Bates' The Way of Wyrd too - a novel but interesting and informative too.

  2. Hi Rowan,
    Finished reading 'The Way of Wyrd' last night. I was intrigued by the plant spearwort, he used for Brand. Looking it up in Geoffrey Grigson (spearwort is a ranunculus by the way)
    "Its used for blistering, (its one of those 'sympathy' plants, good in the treatment of bubonic plague;)in the middle ages....It was pounded in a mortar and then in limpet shells. Gerard also called the plant 'Banewoort', because it is dangerous and deadly for sheepe; and that if they feede of the same it inflameth their livers, freeteth and blistereth their guts and entrailes' it caused liver rot"

    mmmm, don't idly chew on a buttercup