A wonderful local attraction a little off the beaten trail – by that, I mean not exactly your average tourist outing – is the Stavkirke in Rapid City. This Chapel in the Hills is an historic replica of a church in Norway, the Borgund stavkirke in Laerdal, which was built in the 12th century.
The word stavkirke refers to the construction of the building, using staves or pillars made of Douglas fir, the closest possible substitution for the fir trees used by the Norwegians in the 12th century. The church is constructed entirely of wood, except for the iron used in the door knockers and locks. Instead of nails, wooden dowels are used. Some speculate that this is what has allowed churches like the Borgund stavkirk to survive to the modern day – Wooden dowels would give a literal flexibility to the building that might not be had with rigid nails.
Up until a few weeks ago, I had never seen the Stavkirke. I had heard of it and seen pictures, and always had wanted to visit – I wasn’t in the least disappointed. It looked a little like the chapel in Frozen, just smaller. The heavy door knockers and huge locks, the covered walkway around the outside of the church, the vaulting rooftops, and the towering doorways with intricate carving – It all seemed like something straight out of a fairytale.
The visitors’ center has a flyer with a history of the building, including a narrative explaining the use of pagan symbolism in the construction of the church, because of the remnants of mythologies and the deeply-held traditions of pagan religions to which people clung, even after the embracing of Christianity by Norwegians.
The Chapel in the Hills was built in the 1960s according to blueprints supplied by the Norwegian Department of Antiquities, a plan pieced together by Drs. Gregerson and Thompson, and financed by Arndt Dahl, a local banker who was himself a first-generation American of Norwegian heritage.
The church is active during the summer months – Lutheran Vespers happen nightly, weddings are hosted, and countless people worldwide stop to see this relic of our heritage. What an oddity! And what a gem! They have an informative website, too, if you want more information on the Chapel in the Hills.
The girls and I visited while Jess was here, but I went back a few days later over my lunch break – The sky was piercingly blue. I retook a few shots and added a few more. There was a couple from Illinois also there – I heard them talking to the gal managing the visitors’ center – and I struck up a conversation with them. They had gone to college in Champaign, my Illinois hometown! What a small world. Turned out the wife was wearing the same shirt I was wearing, just a different color. She said she got hers from some clothing store – I don’t know brand names, so I didn’t know the store. I had gotten mine from Goodwill. We had a chuckle over that one. It was a fun conversation. And I’m pretty sure they found the Stavkirk well worth seeing, too, in spite of all of the louder, snappier tourist attractions there are to see in the Hills.
Off the beaten path is always a good place to look for the real sights in the Hills.