Fantoft Stave Church: Norwegian Black Metal and Stave Church Burnings in Norway

Fantoft Stave Church was originally 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.

Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen Norway suffered a terrible fate in April of 1992 when it was burned down by Varg Vikernes, a member of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and one-man music project Burzum.  The Fantoft Stave Church burning had started the war between Norwegian churches vs black metal in Norway.

Fantoft Stave Church - Black Church in Norway, wood church painted black in the middle of the forest in Autumn

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Fantoft Stave Church History

If you are looking for things to do in Bergen and want to learn more about Fantoft Stave Church history, add a trip to Norway’s stunningly beautiful stave church to your itinerary.

One of the best things about Fantoft Stave Church is how easily accessible it is! Most stave churches in Norway are located in more rural locations that are impossible to reach without a car.

The Fantoft Stave church is located in the Fana borough in Bergen and is a short distance from the city centre. The impressive Stave Church is accessible by the Bergen Light Rail and by bus.

A visit to Fantoft Stave Church will be filled with both stave church and Norwegian history. You will be able to step onto the site of the Fantoft Stave Church arson in 1992 and see how the Bergen church was rebuilt, ultimately overcoming the tragic Norway church burning.

Long before the arson, the church was falling into ruin from lack of upkeep and funds. The crumbling Fantoft Stave church was being salvaged for parts by the local community in Fortun.

Luckily, the church was saved and moved piece by piece to Bergen and marked as a historical site in Norway. Until April of 1992 when it was the first of many churches that would be the subject of arson across Norway.

Rebuilding the Fantoft Stave Church

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 the construction. The planks and columns are pegged together in the traditional way, rather than using nails or glue.

Walking up to the church, you will pass through a small forest of trees with roots that came up through the earth. Smell the fresh, clean scent from the pine needles scattered all around the dirt-covered path and felt them crunch under your feet as you approach a tiny graveyard. The magnificence that is the Fantoft Stave Church appears from its hiding place in the middle of the woods.

The church is made of dark brown wood with intricate designs that reminded me of the historical Norwegian ship 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.

Fantoft Stave Church Interior – Inside the Fantoft Stave Church

Goofy looking Jesus inside Fantoft Stave Church
King Friday… is that you?

The interior of the church was very modern, clean and filled with new wood. 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. Lightwood, Norse mythology-influenced carvings and a wooden Jesus that reminded me of King Friday from Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood filled the interior.

Leprosy in Norway

As Norway once had the most lepers out of any country in Europe, Fantoft had 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. If you have the Bergen Card you can get free admission!

How to get to Bergen’s Fantoft Stave Church

Take Bergen Light Rail to Paradis. Walk up Birkelundsbakken hill until you reach the parking lot on the left. Walk down the path towards the Stave Church. This walk will take about 15 minutes.

Take the bus from Bergen to the Paradis Bybanestopp. Stave Church is a 750m walk from this point.

Black Metal and Church Burnings in Norway – Black Metal Church Burnings

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. That’s why when people think of a black church in Norway they think of the Fantoft Stave Church – due to the dark colour of the wood as well as the fact that it was burned to black ashes in the fire.

What is Norwegian Black Metal?

Black metal is a genre of metal known for its shrieking vocals, distorted guitars and members wearing “corpse paint” — black and white makeup used to appear dead or inhuman. According to Mayhem’s Euronymous, black metal is “evil, satanic and paints beautiful moods and landscapes of sound”

Black metal musician Euronymous, real name Øystein Aarseth, was hitting the scene hard in the 90s. He was the guitarist of Mayhem and was a big name in the Norwegian black metal scene. He thrived on creating evil in the world and proved it after the death of fellow Mayhem bandmate Dead (Per Ohlin).

According to other members of Mayhem, Euronymous encouraged Dead to commit suicide. When Dead was found dead, instead of calling the police, Euronymous grabbed his disposable camera to photograph the scene. He went as far as making the death scene the cover of Mayhem’s album Dawn of the Black Hearts.

The story of Norwegian Black Metal Musician Varg Vikernes

Cross at Fantoft Stave Church with the intricately designed wooden stave church in the background
Another beautiful view of the cross and Fantoft Stave Church

The black metal scene was erupting in Norway in the early 90s. Norwegian Black Metal history between the years of 1992 and 1996 was intense. Everything that Euronymous did was extreme and evil.

He opened up a black metal music shop in Oslo called Helvete (Now Neseblod Records). He opened up the basement for his Black Metal Inner Circle – called the “Black Circle” and started his metal record label Deathlike Silence Productions which produced two of Varg’s Burzum albums.

Euronymous, Varg and several other black metal musicians and fans declared war on organized religion went to extreme lengths by burning down 50 Christian churches in Norway. Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen was the first victim of the black metal church burnings.

With the scene getting more and more extreme, Varg Vikernes, who also went by the name Count Grishnachkh, decided that he needed to speak to journalists about the church burnings.

Varg wanted to take the black metal movement to the next level by giving the interview to the newspaper. The journalists promised Varg the interview would be anonymous, they went straight to the police and Varg became the main suspect in the arson of Fantoft Stave Church and the Stave church burning.

Was Satanism behind the Norway Church Burnings?

The grounds surrounding Fantoft Stave Church - a cross on a hill with Fantoft Stave Church in the background
The grounds surrounding Fantoft Stave Church

According to Varg, the church burnings were not satanic but were a PR stunt for the release of his album. In the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, Varg says, in relation to creating a change in the world (he was referencing WWIII as the change) – “If you want to build something new, you must destroy the old first.”

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.

Why did Varg murder Euronymous?

The real reason Varg killed Euronymous was due to a threat. Euronymous was evil and extreme but he was all talk. He sent death threats to everyone, including Varg.

However, Varg took the threat seriously. According to Varg, Euronymous was planning to kidnap him, knock him out, take him to the forest and torture him. Varg drove 500km to Oslo, arrived at 3 am and killed Euronymous.

Varg claimed the murder of Euronymous was self-defence, however, he often says that “I killed him there and then because he tried to kill me” and was sentenced to prison.

After serving 15 years, Varg lives freely with his wife and children in France. He still has strong racist and anti-Semitic views. He was charged for hate speech in France in 2014 and ordered to pay a fine of €8000.

The black metal scene felt relief after Euronymous had died and Varg was in jail. Instead of being in a world of a power struggle, politics and creating a world of evil – the scene left all that behind and it was just about the love of the music.

The church in the sun with a beautiful blue sky in the background
Credit: My cool friend Chris on his recent trip to Bergen

How many churches did Varg Vikernes burn down?

Varg was heavily involved in many Norway church burnings. In total Varg Vikernes was charged for 3 Norwegian church burnings, but he may have been involved in other Norway church burnings.

Holmenkollen Chapel was burned down in Oslo in August 1992, Old Asane Church (Åsane Church) burning in Bergen in December 1992 and Skjold Church in Rogaland in September of 1992.

Varg and Euronymous also had planned on blowing up Nidaros Cathedral, but it was all talk as they had no way to obtain enough explosives.

During the church burnings, many copycat arsons started and churches were being burned down all over Norway in the 90s.

Again, he was never charged for burning down all of the Bergen Norway churches that were involved in the arson – he was never found guilty of burning down Fantoft Stave Church.

Why did Varg burn churches?

With Varg’s association with the Norwegian black metal scene, he claimed the reason he burned down churches was purely for PR purposes. Varg claimed that he committed the Norwegian church burning to promote his new album.

He claimed that he didn’t regret burning down the church and it was “pretty good advertisement.” Check out the video below from his court trials from Bergen in 1993. Be sure to turn on English captions to understand what he is saying!

I watched several documentaries about the Norwegian black metal scene and the consensus was that Varg, Euronymous and others in the 90’s Norwegian black metal scene burned down churches to fit in.

The entire ideology behind Black Metal in Norway was to be evil and extreme. The media tied the church burnings to Satanism and Satan worship, but Varg specifically says that the burnings had nothing to do with black metal being tied to Satanism. The media would just use it to sensationalize the evils of the black metal scene.

One of the main reasons people like Varg and Euronymous were so angry with Christianity in Norway was that they say Christians came into Norway and destroyed their original culture and origins. Varg believes that Norway needs to return to the Norwegian culture and paganism. They felt that burning the churches was “taking back the land.”

Arson on Churches in Norway

The arson to Norwegian Churches in the 1990s was done to wage a war on Christianity in Norwegian society – and a return to Odin Paganism? Or committed by a bunch of young misguided kids trying to fit in? or just really successful PR for Burzum?

Successful? yes, because the world was now aware of the Norwegian Black Metal subculture – but otherwise not awesome.

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 historic structures is the best way to fight religion.

Stave Churches in Norway

Intricate designs of the wooden roof of the Norway church - carvings of dragons and similar carvings to a Norwegian Viking Ship
Intricate designs of the Church

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.

Movies about Norwegian Black Metal History and the Norwegian Church Burnings

If you want to know more about the history of Black Metal in the 1990s, check out these films, documentaries and books.

Lords of Chaos

Lords of Chaos is based on a book of the same name, although I never read the Lords of Chaos book, a lot of the metal musicians in the stories disagree with how the author and film portrayed what really happened.

The film is “based on truth, lies and what really happened” – I will warn you that the film is really graphic in showing the suicide of Pelle “Dead” Ohlin.

This scene really upset current Mayhem band member, Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud, who left the band after Euronymous took photos of Pelle’s dead body rather than calling the police.

Until the Light Takes Us

I loved the documentary Until the Light Takes Us. It mostly follows Fenriz from the Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone, but it offers a real insight into what really happened back in the 1990s.

The film also interviews Varg Vikernes and gets his side to the murder of Euronymous. It is the documentary that discusses the Fantoft Stave Church burnings the most and includes several scenes of all of the church burnings in Norway.

Once Upon a Time in Norway

Once upon a time in Norway is the oldest and shortest of the documentaries about the Norwegian Black Metal scene. This film involves Necrobutcher, which as he was a member of Mayhem back when Dead was the lead singer and is now the only original band member left in Mayhem – I feel his views and side of the story are important to hear.

He has released a book called The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94 in which he discusses the history of Mayhem and the subculture of Black Metal. I haven’t read it yet, so if you have let me know how it is in the comments below!

Pure F*cking Mayhem

The last documentary is Pure F*cking Mayhem. This documentary does not talk about the Fantoft Stave Church Burnings or any of the Norwegian Church Burnings.

It interviews several people from the black metal community and about the history of Mayhem. Only watch this one if you want to know more about Mayhem – otherwise give it a miss as the sound quality is quite poor so it’s hard to sit through if you aren’t totally interested in the band’s history.

Although each documentary offers its own separate insights into what happened in the black metal scene in the 90s, if you can only watch one, I recommend watching is Until the Light Takes Us. The best part of this documentary? The song by Ulver called Not Saved is featured in the movie and I love it. Give it a listen.

Tree stump carved into the shape of the church
This tree stump is trying his best with his little Stave Church roof.

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