Trondenes Church, Norway

Norway - Scott #716 (1978)
Norway – Scott #716 (1978)

Trondenes Church (Trondenes kirke) is the northernmost medieval stone church of Norway and the world’s northernmost surviving medieval building. It is a parish church in the municipality of Harstad in Troms county, Norway. Located in the village of Trondenes along the Vågsfjorden, the church is part of the Trondenes parish in the Trondenes deanery in the Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland. The municipality (originally the parish) was named after the old Trondenes farm (Þróndarnes in Old Norse), since the first church was built there. The first element is the genitive of þróndr which means “hog” and the last element is nes which means “headland”. The shape of the headland was probably compared with the snout of a hog.

The parish of Trondenes was established as a municipality on January 1, 1838. The town of Harstad was separated from Trondenes on January 1, 1904, to become a separate municipality. This left Trondenes with 7,775 inhabitants. On January 1, 1912, part of Trondenes (population: 291) was transferred to the neighboring municipality of Evenes (in Nordland county). The districts of Sandtorg and Skånland were separated from Trondenes on July 1, 1926, to become independent municipalities, leaving 3,429 inhabitants in the remaining areas of Trondenes.

Map of Norway

Map of Harstad, Norway

Approximately 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war were sent to Norway during the Second World War. About 13,700 died in Norway during their captivity. During the Cold War, Norwegian authorities decided to gather all of the Soviet war graves in Northern Norway to one location. In autumn 1951, 403 graves were found at the Trondenes Church burial ground. These were later moved to the Tjøtta International War Cemetery in Nordland County.

On October 25, 1956, a small border adjustment was made between Trondenes and Kvæfjord. This resulted in 32 inhabitants becoming residents of Trondenes. On January 1, 1964, the municipalities of Trondenes and Sandtorg were merged with the town of Harstad to form a new, larger municipality of Harstad. Prior to the merger, Trondenes had a population of 6,567.

View of Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
View of Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.

Though frequently referred to as a 13th-century church, dating based on dendrochronology places its completion shortly after 1434. Compared to the other ten north Norwegian medieval stone churches, The church is presumably the third church on the site, the first stave church being built in the 11th century, followed by another in the 12th. The second church was fortified with stone walls and ramparts, remnants of which can still be seen around the church today.

Trondenes Church is well preserved, the exterior condition still close to the original state. The nave is 74 feet (22.6 meters) long and the chancel is 44 feet (13.5 m), making it one of the largest medieval churches of rural Norway. In the late Medieval period, Trondenes served as the main church center of Northern Norway.

Pulpit inside Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
Pulpit inside Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
Small altar inside Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
Small altar inside Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
Interior view of Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.
Interior view of Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on June 15, 2005.

The church is best known for its rich decorations, including three gothic triptychs, one of which was earlier attributed to the German Hanseatic artist Bernt Notke, although modern art historians now doubt the attribution. The baroque pulpit is equipped with an hourglass to allow the minister to time long sermons. The organ dates from the late 18th century. In the choir section, one can see remnants of medieval frescoes.

The church bells once hung from a turret but, as the turret has long since been demolished, the bells now ring from a small tower in the graveyard.

In recent years, a 3000-year-old bronze axe and a 2600-year-old bronze collar have been found on the Trondenes peninsula, just north of the town center. These, together with the burial cairns built close to the sea, are indications of a well-developed Bronze Age culture in the Harstad area. There is also substantial archeological evidence of a well-developed Iron Age culture in the area, around 200 AD.

Trondenes is mentioned in the Heimskringla — the best known of the Old Norse kings’ sagas — as a power center in the Viking Age and a place to meet and discuss important issues (Trondarting).

Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on August 3, 2006.
Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on August 3, 2006.
Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on March 11, 2011.
Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on March 11, 2011.
Trondenes Historical Center, Norway. Photo taken on May 17, 2012.
Trondenes Historical Center, Norway. Photo taken on May 17, 2012.

Adjacent to the church is the Trondenes Historical Center (Trondenes Historiske Senter). The museum covers the history of Trondenes and the surrounding areas. The museum displays cover more than 2,000 years of history in the region. Local chieftains included Thorir Hund, who killed Norway’s Patron Saint, Saint Olav during the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. The center tells the history of the area from the early Viking settlement to the 1940-1945 Nazi German occupation, with paintings, artifacts and statues depicting their history.

Also nearby is the Adolf Gun (Adolfkanone in German), an enormous land-based cannon from World War II, and the last of four cannons originally constructed by the Nazis. Designated a The 40.6 cm SK C/34 gun, it was designed in 1934 by the Krupp Gun Works and originally intended for the early H-class battleships. The guns were produced in left and right-handed pairs. These pairs were split for individual mounting in the coastal defense role. The gun’s barrel was approximately 66 feet (20 m) long. In a coastal defense emplacement the gun could be elevated to 52 degrees, giving it a range of 33 miles (56 kilometers) with the special 1,300-pound (600 kilogram) long-range shell called the Adolf-shell. It used the standard German naval system of ammunition where the base charge was held in a metallic cartridge case and supplemented by another charge in a silk bag. The rate of fire for the weapon was around 2 rounds per minute as coastal artillery.

The four guns mounted at Trondenes Fort constituted Battery Theo manned by the German unit MKB 5 / MAA 511. They were theoretically capable of shooting whales in the feeding grounds off Andenes. They could also hit targets in the port of Narvik. The shell was in the air for over two minutes, and had a maximum trajectory ceiling of 14 miles (21,800 m).After the end of the war the Trondenes guns were taken over by the Norwegian Army, along with 1,227 shells. The battery was last fired in 1957 and formally decommissioned in 1964. They were spared from scrapping and one is open as a museum. In the summer there are normally three or four guided tours per day. Harstad is one of the few towns in this part of Norway which were left largely undamaged by World War II.

40.6 cm Schnelladekanone C/34 (Adolf Gun) at Trondenes, Norway. Photo taken on August 3, 2006.
40.6 cm Schnelladekanone C/34 (Adolf Gun) at Trondenes, Norway. Photo taken on August 3, 2006.
Door at Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on May 5, 2010.
Door at Trondenes Church, Norway. Photo taken on May 5, 2010.

Scott #714 was released on April 12, 1978, part of a series of definitive stamps (bruksfrimerker)portraying Norwegian architecture that ran from 1977-1983 (Scott #690-692, 715-724, and 772-774). The three 1977 stamps were perforated 13 while the remainder were 13×13½ (horizontal orientation) or 13½x13 (vertical). All were beautifully engraved, a hallmark of most Norwegian stamps. The 1.10-krone stamp was designed and engraved by Knut Løkke-Sørensen and printed in rose magenta with a print run of 16,750,000.

Starting in 1978,  theNorwegian post office began to officially issue signeringkort, a type of souvenir card that presents that the artwork of a stamp designer and/or the engraving of a specific engraver. Issued in conjunction with stamp shows and Stamp Day events at which a stamp designer or engraver was present, many examples, but not all, of the cards were hand signed. All but a couple of the cards were issued by the post office (the others were issued by the Norwegian Banknote Printing Works). Most of the cards bear printed images of stamps with a space for the actual stamp to be affixed. Approximately 30 were issued between 1978 and 1997 and most are quite scarce.

Hålogaland 88 signature card with Norway Scott #716 affixed and postmarked with a Halstad, Norway postmark showing Trondenes Church, November 11, 1988.
Hålogaland 88 signature card with Norway Scott #716 affixed and postmarked with a Halstad, Norway postmark showing Trondenes Church, November 11, 1988.

The Trondenes Church stamp of 1978 was featured on the signeringkort released in conjunction with Hålogaland 88, a stamp exhibition held in Halstad November 11-13, 1988. It can be found with different Halstad postmarks but has only been reported with a printed signature.

Coat of arms of Harstad, Norway

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