Interior from the exhibition in Bergen© Bergen University

Norwegian Church Art in Bergen

The collection of medieval church art at the University Museum of Bergen in Norway is among the finest of its kind in Europe. A new catalogue presents the collection in several languages.

Bergen Kirkekunst. Cover 2022The Medieval Church Collection. University Museum of Bergen (Norway)
Ed. by Justin Kroesen and Stephan Kuhn
Schnelle & Steiner 2022

In 1825, when the University Museum in Bergen was founded, the focus was immediately lavished on the burgeoning collection of medieval church art.

At the centre was the collection of carvings from the medieval stave churches from c. 1100 – 1500, including the large crucifixes, Madonna sculptures, and other statues of saints. But also, reliquaries, processional objects, liturgical vestments, other altar decorations and baptismal fonts were collected.

Today, twenty altar frontals, various polychromed Madonnas and a vaulted altar canopy are exhibited. Also, the collection includes several Romanesque baptismal fonts, late Gothic winged altarpieces, metal vessels, and liturgical vestments.

Due to the partnership of a dedicated curator and a bishop, the collection was carefully nurtured from 1825-50. Thus, the museum came to offer a much-needed home for the medieval furnishings.

This recognition was fortunate when in 1851, law prescribed that Norwegian churches should be able to hold the entire congregation. Rapidly, the old churches in the countryside were torn down from one end to the next. However, the well-established museum was there to house the “medieval trash”.

The exhibition is presented in a manner intended to invite the visitor into the medieval experience of taking part in a Norwegian mass in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Most objects came from churches in a limited area along Norway’s west coast. However, their style, techniques and iconography reflect the many cultural connections that tied this region to other areas surrounding the North Sea as well as the Mediterranean and the Near East. High medieval church art was seldom provincial.

The new catalogue has been published in connection with Schnell & Steiner


Justin Kroesen is professor of the Material Culture of Christianity and research curator of church art at the University Museum of Bergen. Stephan Kuhn MA works on a PhD thesis on high medieval altar decorations in Norway and elsewhere.

Frontal from Stave Church in Ulvik © Bergen University museum
The frontal from the old stave church in Ulvik is one of the finest examples of English influenced Gothic to be found anywhere in Europe. Beside the Crowned Jesus in the central panel we see Peter, Paul and Andrew, amongst others. © Bergen University museum


Press Release:
Middelalderens Kirkekunst lancerer et nyt katalog




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