Wooden church

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Single-aisle wooden church from Kempele (Finland)
City church of Neuhaus am Rennweg , largest wooden church in Thuringia
Simple wooden chapel from the 19th century in Mechters in Lower Austria

A wooden church is a Christian sacred building made of wood , which is mainly used for church services. They must be distinguished from churches truss ( truss churches ) that are not built entirely of wood, but where the compartments with other material such as brick or clay and straw mats are required.


Christianity originated in the 1st century AD in the eastern Mediterranean between Egypt and Turkey. The construction of buildings for religious services had two requirements: the building materials and the local tradition of building religious buildings. After extensive deforestation in favor of the important shipbuilding industry in the Mediterranean, rocky soil dominated there, especially on the cliffs of the Mediterranean, so that the religious buildings were traditionally built using stone construction: Greek and Roman temples. The Jews had only one temple, the Jerusalem temple ; otherwise their services were held in stone synagogues .

The newly forming Christianity did not yet know a church, but they held their meetings in private apartments ( Acts 20: 6-12  EU ). With their increasing expansion, which entire Jewish communities joined, they also used the synagogues of this community. First after tolerance and then after adopting Christianity as the state religion, the Christians also used the basilicas , which until then usually served as market and court halls. All church buildings of the Roman Empire were built of stone. This not only had to do with the lack of timber, but also had a weighty symbolic background: Jesus Christ had said to his apostle : "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" ( Matthew 16:18  EU ) Jesus Christ himself is also called the “corner stone” of the church: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.” ( 1 Petr 2,7  EU ) The church must therefore be built of stone.

History of wooden church building

The Germanic peoples, on the other hand, knew no stone building, the Celts only dry stone walls. On their campaigns of conquest, they left the villas of the Roman landowners who had fled and built their accommodation as usual out of wood. They only used stone as demolition material to build tombs. When the first churches were built east of the Roman border, wood was used as a building material, on the one hand because stone construction technology was unknown, on the other hand because wood was available much faster than stone from quarries and also easier to work with. It was not until the Carolingian Renaissance , in which Charlemagne took the imperial city of Rome as a model, that the Roman stone building tradition was adopted.

However, because of its high cost (and due to the lack of specialists for stone construction), stone construction was only reserved for particularly outstanding church buildings: e.g. B. the Aachen Palatine Chapel , the Einhardsbasilika and the gatehouse to Lorsch .

The great majority of the churches were initially built as wooden churches, especially in the countryside; until then there were hardly any cities. No medieval wooden churches have survived in Germany; the oldest, a chapel in Sammarei (Passau district), dates from 1521 (first mentioned), but was probably built before 1500. In Germany, however, the construction of wooden churches ceased in principle as early as the 13th century, when they were only used for temporary structures and small buildings. In contrast, in Norway 97% of the new buildings built between 1600 and 1800 were still wooden churches. Scandinavia therefore has a long wooden church tradition that extends far beyond the Middle Ages. Research on wooden churches there began as early as the 17th century.

Overall, however, the focus of archaeological research on wooden churches shifted from Scandinavia to Central Europe and here in particular to Germany, where between 1946 and 1991 almost half of all European wooden church excavations were carried out in the Federal Republic. While excavations in the churches were initially carried out mainly by art historians who were primarily interested in the uncovering of stone floor plans, medieval archeology has now developed with specific methods ( stratigraphy , dendrochronology ) that increased the chances of the often difficult-to-identify traces to discover and date former wooden buildings. There are comparatively few results from France and the former Eastern Bloc states, in the latter case - with the exception of the wooded area of ​​the Carpathian Mountains - because of the poor source situation due to the political marginalization of the church.

An interaction must be observed between the occurrence of material and building tradition. Stone construction was only systematically developed in the urban high cultures, where the building material requirements of a population agglomeration significantly exceeded the previously primarily used natural wood deposits.

While in Central Europe wooden churches were built in the 12th and 13th centuries. Century ceased, in the end only for temporary arrangements and chapels, Scandinavia (except Denmark) and the East Central European log building areas maintained a strong wooden church building tradition even beyond the Middle Ages. In Norway and Sweden, too, the first stone buildings were built as early as the 11th century, especially the cathedral buildings of the bishops (elevations to the archbishopric: Lund 1104, Trondheim 1154), but in the area of ​​the so-called Niederkirchen (urban and village parish churches) it was mainly wood construction, evidently due to both building material deposits and tradition: North of Denmark, timber was never scarce.

The impact of this wooden church building tradition, which is unique in Europe - with the exception of the Carpathian region - can be seen in two characteristic examples: In Iceland there are plenty of stones, but no wood. Nevertheless, the Icelandic churches were built exclusively from wood that was brought in by ship, some of it in a prefabricated state. In Lapland there are two written certificates for church buildings in regions without wood: One emphasizes that extra timber was brought in, the other regrets that this was unfortunately not possible.

The oldest wooden churches

The "oldest surviving wooden church in the world" is the Church of Greensted (Essex) in England, although only parts of the choir remain. The wall planks, which today stand on a sill beam over a brick plinth from 1848, were originally dug into the ground as a palisade wall. It is about 20 - 40 cm wide oak half-trunks, which are provided on both sides with grooves for thin, loose feathers approx. 7 cm wide and are only approx. 1.40 m high today. The inner sides are flat ( "obviously secondary" ) with a ax, the outer surfaces natural trunk-round. A total of 53 planks of the oldest documented “single-nave hall building” have been preserved, but several of them “obviously do not belong to the original building” . 19 of 20 wood samples could be dated in 1995 and resulted in a tree ring sequence from 878 to 1053, without inner heartwood and sapwood; Therefore dating “between 1063 and approx. 1100”.

Today's conception of wooden churches is mainly shaped by the buildings preserved in Norway. These are mostly not (longitudinally rectangular) log buildings, but stave churches with a central core in the multi-aisled central building, the height of which is more pronounced than the floor plan, which gives the churches a more tower-like impression. These splendid pieces can in no way be compared with the simple buildings of the Central European early Middle Ages.

The archaeological finds in Germany from the Middle Ages mostly show very simple floor plans, especially hall churches . Even the addition of retracted choirs required increased effort in forming the corner connections. The long wooden beams suggest a right-angled floor plan. Apses rarely come along, and are only possible with Stabbauten, but not in log buildings. There were several options for the lower end of the walls of rod structures: a shallow sinking into the ground (with the risk of rotting) or the support on leg stones or threshold beams.

In the case of wooden churches, emphasis was placed on the difference to secular buildings: therefore, rod buildings were preferred, as log buildings were more common in the secular. If, however, block construction was used, round beams were avoided, but trunks were made into rectangular beams. Overlapping corner connections have also been avoided and flush corner edges have been created instead. This desire for edges and surfaces should create a resemblance to stone construction. Greater wall heights and steeper roofs were preferred in church construction than in secular building.

Types of wooden churches

Different types of wooden churches include a. the stave church (Scandinavia), scrap wood church (Silesia), the old single-nave, often octagonal "island church" (e.g. Vitt on Rügen) and the cruciform wooden church, which is particularly well known on the Finnish mainland. The largest wooden church is Kerimäki Church in Finland. It has 3400 seats and a total of 5000 people can be accommodated in it. The Faroese wooden churches are a specialty .

Wooden churches in Germany

No medieval wooden churches have survived in Germany; the oldest, a chapel in Sammarei (Kr. Passau), dates from 1521 (first mentioned), but was probably built before 1500. All other wooden churches, which are very rare in Germany, apart from chapels, were not built until after the Middle Ages. The oldest of them is the Marktkirche zum Heiligen Geist in Clausthal-Zellerfeld, built in 1642. The Gustav-Adolf-Stave Church in Hahnenklee , built in 1907/08, is the imitation of a Norwegian stave church, at the request of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Pauluskirche in Konstanz was created in the 1930s as a temporary solution.

Wooden churches as a world cultural heritage

The UNESCO appointed some special Holzkirchen for World Heritage of Humanity :


  1. Acts, Chapter 11, Verse 26: "But first in Antioch the disciples and their followers called themselves" Christians "" (around 45 AD)

See also


  • Klaus Ahrens: The early wooden churches in Europe . Stuttgart 2001.

Web links

Commons : Holzkirchen  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: wooden church  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations