The old church, the vicarage and the Petter Dass Museum at Alstahaug are in an idyllic location between the Seven Sisters mountain range and the Helgeland archipelago. Visitors can soak up the culture, poetry and history of Northern Norway.
Alstahaug is one of the historical meeting places nestled along the coast. The onion-shaped church tower stands proud at the foot of Stortinden, the southernmost peak of the Seven Sisters, in a small bay that formed a perfect harbour for traditional Nordland boats, with far-reaching views out across the Helgeland archipelago and surrounded by green, fertile fields. Immediately below is the old, red-painted vicarage, and on the hill above is an ornate memorial stone carrying the bust of the parson poet. Situated discretely behind is the modern Petter Dass Museum.
The “landscraper” museum blends into the landscape
Forming an effective contrast to the historic wood and stone, the Petter Dass Museum cuts into the rock just by the church. The architectural firm Snøhetta, known for designing the opera house in Oslo, the library in Alexandria and one of the towers of the World Trade Center, has designed a “landscraper” here. Unlike a skyscraper, which towers above its surroundings, the landscraper seeks to blend in with them. Towards the farmyard and the church, only a glass wall is visible, but inside, the building is uncompromisingly modern and bright. However, on the other side of the hill, facing away from the church and the vicarage, the architecture is more imposing, with the glass and wood both interacting and contrasting with the surrounding landscape.
Petter Dass is Northern Norway’s most famous poet
Petter Dass (1647–1707) is Norway’s most important baroque poet. His psalm “Lord God, thy dear name and honour” is perhaps the Church of Norway’s best-loved hymn. His work “The Trumpet of Nordland”, which describes the entire North Norwegian coast from the south right up to Tromsø, is a major work in Norwegian baroque literature. Petter Dass is also known for his occasional poems and secular songs.
Learn more about Petters life in Alstahaug
At Alstahaug, you can learn more about Petter Dass’ life. Petter Dass was the son of a Scottish businessman who settled on Herøy. He attended the cathedral school in Bergen and later studied at the university in Copenhagen. His first job was as a home teacher for the parson in Vefsn. While there, he fathered a child with the daughter of the house, which caused serious problems.
Petters church still stands today
Alstahaug Church is one of the oldest churches in Northern Norway. The old chancel dates from the 12th century, while the western part of the chancel, which was originally the nave, dates from the 13th century. The thick double walls are built from soapstone, and on the southern wall of the chancel, there is an ornate portal in the Romanesque style. During the 1860s, the church was radically expanded — the west half of the nave was demolished and the rest was used as a chancel. The old chancel then became the sacristy. During the 1960s, the church was restored, and the section dating from the Middle Ages was returned to its original condition. The interior of this section, including the altarpiece, is very old and has not changed much since Petter Dass was there in the late 1600s.
The vicarage is from around the year 1750
The houses that Petter Dass would have lived in are no longer standing. However, parts of the old vicarage have been preserved, and much of the main house dates from around 1750. A small extension was added in the late 1800s. The buildings are in an idyllic location under an impressive ash adjacent to the church.
Alstahaug is a must-see attraction along the Coastal Route. Around 30 km (19 miles) north of Alstahaug is the charming coastal town of Sandnessjøen, home to a Hurtigruten calling point and domestic airport. From here, a bus goes to Alstahaug, but it is much more enjoyable to cycle through the fertile agricultural landscape beneath the Seven Sisters mountain chain with views out to the archipelago. There are tours of the church, museum and vicarage during the summer. You can also visit by yourself. At the Petter Dass Museum, you can watch a beautifully produced film that puts Petter Dass into context from both a historical and an artistic perspective.
Practical information about Alstahaug
The church and the Petter Dass Museum are found half an hour south of the small coastal town of Sandnessjøen. Do not that the whole municipality, including the town of Sandnessjøen, is named after Alstahaug.
Sandnessjøen has both an airport and is a Hurtigruten stop. From Sandnessjøen you can take a bus. Many come in their own car or by bike, since Alstahaug lies on the coastal route.