On the boat crossing to the Lofoten Islands, the towers of Lofoten Cathedral are the first sign of human habitation. For 900 years, fishermen have prepared themselves for fishing in Lofoten at the church in Kabelvåg.
People are small in the grand Lofoten landscape. However, Vågan Church or Lofoten Cathedral, built in 1898, rises up in competition with the mountain peaks, and is visible far out to sea. The 1200-seat Vågan Church is the largest church in northern Norway, one of Norway’s largest wooden churches and the largest wooden building in northern Norway. The church stands in Kabelvåg (“Chapel Bay”), the ancient capital of Lofoten.
The Lofoten cathedral was built for fishermen
The reason why they needed such a large church in Kabelvåg was, of course, Lofoten’s fishing heritage. Visiting fishermen from around the Norwegian coast felt the need for spiritual support before they took to the Lofoten Sea in winter, and the church was always full during the Lofoten fishing season. For an ordination in 1929, there were 2000 people in the church — 800 of them stood, and Bishop Berggrav said from the pulpit that it felt like being in a cathedral. Thus the nickname “Lofoten Cathedral”, although Vågan Church is actually a normal parish church.
The cathedral is built out of Neo-Gothic wood
The church is built in the Gothic Revival style, and like many in Northern Norway, in wood. Pointed arches feature in the windows, in the arches between the tall, slender internal wooden columns, in the pulpit’s ornamentation and on the stately, pointed tower. The Swiss style can be seen in the carved details of the roof ridges and in the interior ornamentation. Architect Carl Julius Bergstrøm began using prefabricated elements from Trondheim that were put together on site. The altarpiece from 1860 was in the “old church”, which was demolished in 1900.
900 years of church history
King Øystein built the first church in Vågan in the early 12th century, at the same time as building cottages for fishermen. That established the close relationship between the Church and the annual Lofoten fishery. There have certainly been five, maybe six, different churches in Kabelvåg, and the penultimate predecessor can now be found at Værøy. Vågan Church has preserved the inventory from the previous churches, such as Fredrik II’s 1589 Bible, 17th-century chandeliers and candlesticks, and an 18th-century baptismal font.
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