Chapel in the Hills...
Sep 5, 2014
|Yesterday we visited the Chapel in the Hills located in Rapid City. During one of our visits with cousins Wayne & Judy they'd asked if we'd visited it in the past. We hadn't even heard of it! We learned that the chapel is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway which was built around the year 1150 and is considered the most completely preserved stave church still standing in Norway. And being of Norweigian descent, (bet you didn't know that although with a maiden name of Tow how could you not!), it was a must see for me :)
We knew the general area for it's location but couldn't seem to find any signs so, after asking for directions & winding our way through a lovely residential area, we finally found the entrance. Wow, it was quite beautiful. The church sits on 30 acres of forest, with neatly landscaped lawns & lovely flowers about. The Chapel was built in 1969 as the home for the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry. After the show moved to Minneapolis in 1975, a non-profit corporation was formed to oversee the church and its grounds. The Stavkirke has no congregation and relies on endowment funds, donations, weddings, and gift shop sales for its upkeep.
After exploring the grounds & church from different vantage points we finally entered through the front door. There is a large ring on the front door known as the Sanctuary Ring. In Norway it would have offered protection to outlaws who grasped it. As long as they hung on, the authorities could not arrest them (folklore says that more than a few outlaws starved to death while holding tight).
Interestingly, when you stand inside the building and look up, the ceiling resembles a Viking ship turned upside down—which is appropriate because when the church was built, their congregants likely included some of those newly converted Vikings. The church has other features that interwine pagan and Christian elements, including a carving of snakes and dragons (representing the battle between good and evil) that surrounds the front door. The side door, also known as the women’s door, has carved lions, bears and wolves, also a carryover from pre-Christian traditions. An informative audio narrative of the structure was playing inside the chapel which was great. Made it all the more interesting.
We learned that the Norwegian Department of Antiquities provided a set of blueprints of the Borgund church to be used in the construction of the Chapel in the Hills. The woodcarvings resulted from the combined effort by Norwegian woodcarver Erik Fridstrøm and Rapid City resident, Helge Christiansen. Although simple in appearance the techniques used to build the church are intricate and a marvel of engineering. The name Stavkirke comes from the use of staves (the large pillars) used to support the church structure. The church was built on a foundation of flat stones used to elevate the foundation beams from the ground and moisture. The walls were made from vertical planks topped with four more beams to support the roof. The stave churches were built of a special type of fir called "malmfuru," (no longer available) which was very hard, with great size and straight trunks. The closest approximation to this favored fir in North America is the Douglas fir of the Pacific Northwest. It is of Douglas fir the Chapel in the Hills is constructed. The 16,000 shingles on the Chapel were hand-cut with a saw. The only metal used was on the ornate door furnishings and locks. Instead of nails, they used wooden dowel pins. This may very well be one of the reasons why some stave churches have stood for over eight hundred years.
Visitors are welcome and encouraged to wander the chapel grounds in this beautiful natural setting. There is a lovely Prayer Walk which winds its way back in to the hillside behind the chapel. Complete with benches and statuary, this provides a place for reflection, prayer, and meditation. Larry & I took a few minutes to stroll along this pretty path & enjoyed it very much.
The site includes an authentic log cabin 'museum' that was built in 1876 by Edward Nielsen, a Norwegian immigrant gold prospector from Hole, Ringerike, Norway. It contains many items brought over by early immigrants as well as items used in their everyday lives. We enjoyed watching the slide presentation giving pertinent facts & information on all of it's contents. I could have spent more time checking each & every item out. We'll definitely come back next year.
Just down the path was a stabbur, a grass-roofed house, built in Norway, shipped to Rapid City, and reassembled on the grounds that serves as the visitor center and gift shop. The Chapel sees 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a year and hosts over 100 weddings each year along with renewal of vows, baptisms, and memorial services. The chapel, museum and gift shop are open May 1-Sept. 30, from 7:00 am until dusk, seven days a week.
Well, that's it for now. I'm going to post the contents of the 'museum' tomorrow as there are too many pics for one post. I hope you can see just a bit of the beauty of the Chapel from these pics. If you are in the area you really should take the time for a visit. Well worth it!