Alstahaug church is one of seven surviving medieval churches in northern Norway, and one of three in Helgeland. These are Alstahaug, Dønnes and Herøy churches, all located in the old Alstahaug parish. They are called the triangle churches. Alstahaug church is an active parish church with worship services, church events and concerts throughout the year. For more information see Alstahaug church. Tours in the church takes place daily during the summer season. Alstahaug church is probably built around 1200, possibly late 1100. The building style and the archaeological findings, helps pinpoint the oldest part of the church. The stone church may have replaced an older wooden church, as it was wooden churches that dominated building styles throughout medieval Norway. The oldest part of Alstahaug church (the choir section) has an architectural design that ties it to the building and decoration style known throughout Europe. The church is built in the Romanesque style with typical round arches and thick walls. The outer portal of the old choir has got carved “sunken stars” and the columns have the Attic base profile. These stars are not known used after 1200, making dating of the church easier. By studying the brickwork it is found that the original church’s was built in two stages. Researchers believe that the second phase of construction came to about 1250. The construction materials in the church’s oldest parts are soapstone. The walls of Alstahaug church comprises an outer and an inner masonry wall, a so-called cavity wall, stone and gravel mixed with mortar in the middle. Soapstone is precisely hewn into a rectangular shape and is called hewn back stones. There are few churches that have interior wall surfaces with soapstone. The stone is thus an expression of wealth and power.
In the medieval church’s oldest part on the north side which traditionally is the women side, archaeological research shows that there is a square recess for an altar. The same has been claimed on the south side, which was the men side of the arch. It is therefore likely that there has been altar on both sides of the chancel. Over the altar on the north side there is a niche in the wall. There has probably been a saint sculpture. On the other hand, there is no niche, but a repository. The saint for the women in this case have been Mary, and the saint for the men St.Olav. Such a seated Olav figure was found at Alstahaug and is today exhibited at St.Olav´s collection in Oslo. It is the only surviving saint sculpture that surely comes from Alstahaug church. It was submitted in 1863 to the Olsok collection in Oslo. The sculpture is made of oak and is 106 cm high and 50 cm wide. The sculpture is dated to about 1405-1410 by Engelstad. He thinks it comes from Bremen. Another sculpture, which probably comes from Alstahaug was given to the Museum of Science by Tjøtta in 1901. This sculpture depicts a saint with flowing hair and covred head. Scholars disagree about who this sculpture depicts. It could be St. Margaret, St. Bridget or Mary Magdalene. The painting conservator Daniela Pawel at the Museum of science thinks it is Mary Magdalene. The reason for this is that Maria Magdalene´s attributes are curly hair with a knocked ointment jar in the hand. This sculpture is 80 cm high and relatively flat. It is therefore intended to be located in a closet and not for itselves. The sculpture is most likely made in Lubeck in the 1470´s by Bernt Notke or his students (Engelstad 1936 p.274). In the years 1863-1865 Alstahaug church got rebuilt and expanded. Parts of the medieval church was demolished, and a new and larger nave was erected. The architect for the refit was Nils Stockfleth Darre Eckhoff. The building material this time was stone taken from the hill near the church. The church emerged now as a typical 1800-century church with flatter roof pitch, large windows and a prefixed tower. In the 1960´s began an extensive restoration of Alstahaug church. The whole church got restored to the architectural style of the Middle Ages with steeper roof pitch and smaller windows. The distinctive dome came back. The church was reopened after restoration on June 21th 1970.
The church Interior and altarpiece
The altarpiece is composed of elements from several periods. In Alstahaug church it is just this board that have been preserved from the Baroque era. It was purchased for the church in 1636 by Peder Pedersen, who was the priest of Alstahaug at the time. We do not know how the board was set up in Petter Dass time. Conservators have revealed that the altarpiece consists of several parts from different centuries and craftsmen. The altarpiece can be divided into three. It is read from bottom to top. The lower part illustrates The Last Supper and The Crucifixion. The next section, which is the alterpieces middle part, is from the 1700’s. It has got columns and illustrates the resurrection. The top of the altarpiece is from the 1800´s and shows The Ascension. The altarpiece is consistently baroque despite the fact that it is composed in different eras. Symbols are well used. In Jesus we see the hourglass and skull to remind us of death and the memento mori. The decoration on the sides shows grapes symbolizing Jesus’ blood/wine and reminds us of the forgiveness of our sins The Eucharist. Apples are also symbolically linked to the biblical story. Bunches of grapes/fruit, volutes, cherubim The angels and akantus is typical of the Baroque´s dramatic expressions (1600-1750). The church has got a baptismal bowl brass given to the church in 1697 by Petter Dass and his wife Margrethe Andersdatter. The candlesticks on the altar are given by Anders Dass (son of Petter Dass) and his wife Rebecca Angell. An altarpiece from 1873, with a copy of Adolph Tidemands Jesus in Gethsemane, is hanging on the church’s northern wall. The textile artist Sigrun Berg is also part of the church’s decoration. The church organ is from 1898, built by the German factory Rieger & Söhne.
NORTHERN NORWAY’S FIRST CATHEDRAL
Until the 1730´s, Helgeland was divided into three parishes: Brønnøysund, Alstahaug and Rødøy with Alstahaug as the largest and richest. Helgeland and all of the Northern Norway belonged to the oldest Christian era of Nidaros. In December 1803, however, Nordlandene and Finnmarken became a separate pin. In 1804 Mathias Bonsach Krogh got appointed bishop of the new diocese while beeing a pastor of Alstahaug parish. The Alstahaug church thus became Northern Norway’s first cathedral, and Alstahaug rectory became a bishopric. From 1812 Bishop Krogh resided on Belsvåg farm, not far from Alstahaug. After Bishop Krogh’s death in 1828 the diocese moved to Tromsø. In 1952, Northern Norway got divided into two dioceses. Sør Hålogaland diocese covers the county of Nordland, and the bishop is based in Bodø.