Choose an elevated point, such as Mount Dønnamannen or one of the Seven Sisters mountains, and you will see the two onion-shaped domes on the churches at Dønnes and Alstahaug and the spire on Herøy Church. All three churches were built at ancient places of assembly where poets, nobles, warriors and the ordinary people of Helgeland would meet.
Alstahaug Church at Alsten, south of Sandnessjøen, was built of locally quarried soapstone in the 12th to 13th centuries. The southern choir portal is held to be one of the finest Romanesque portals in Norway.
Petter Dass’ church
Our famous parson-poet, Petter Dass, was the Lutheran pastor at Alstahaug from 1689 and up until his death in 1707. Both the richly decorated Baroque altarpiece and baptismal dish were donated by him. The church was enlarged in the 1800s: the choir became the sacristy and the nave became the choir. A new nave was then built. This allowed most of the old church to be preserved when the need arose for more space for the congregation.
The Petter Dass Museum and Parsonage
The Parsonage at Alstahaug dates back to the first half of the 18th century, and has well-preserved interiors from the 18th and 19th centuries. A striking and effective contrast is provided by the modern new building at the Petter Dass Museum (designed by the internationally acclaimed Norwegian architectural practice Snøhetta), which houses a centre for documents relating to the parson-poet Petter Dass.
The most beautiful church in North Norway
Dønnes Church is the youngest of the three churches, and was probably built in the early 13th century. Built in a transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic, it also has many details which are Gothic in flavour.
The church was originally built as a chapel for Dønnesgodset, one of the greatest landed estates in North Norway. At the end of the 17th century a mausoleum was also built beneath the church. It is the largest and best preserved mausoleum in Norway, and contains the embalmed bodies of members of the Tønder and Coldevin families.
EnlargementThe local parish took over the church in the 1860s, when it acquired a new nave, and the old nave became the choir. The church is still in use, and in 2006 was awarded the title of “North Norway’s most beautiful church”.
“The Helgeland Cathedral”
Herøy Church was built of soapstone in the 12th century and is the largest of the triangle churches. Built in the Romanesque style, it is the only church in North Norway with an apse, a semi-circular vaulted recess terminating the choir. Herøy Church was also enlarged in the 19th century, with the nave being extended to the west. A tower was also added.
Old centre of assembly
Iron Age archaeological finds suggest that the area where the church stands was formerly a pagan place of worship. In Medieval times, the “leidang” (English: lething), a form of conscription for naval defences organised among the local free farmers, was connected to the church. It was here that the farmers would assemble when there was danger to the realm. Herøy was for a while the centre of power in Hålogaland, and Herøy Church may then have been the most important church in what is present-day Nordland and Troms .
In the 1960s, the church underwent a major programme of restoration, and a considerable number of coins were found beneath the choir, the oldest dating right back to the time of King Sverre (1177-1202). The old stone altar was also found. The altar has five crosses carved in it and stood as the main altar in the apse. Now restored, it has once more found its place in the church.
Alstahaug is easy to reach from Sandnessjøen. There are ferries to the islands of Herøy and Dønna. In the summer season all the churches have extended opening hours, and guided tours are available. Our very best recommendation, however, is to cycle: the roads are flat, the distances short, and the views of the Seven Sisters, Dønnamannen and the multitude of islands, are priceless.
Helgeland Reiseliv’s content-rich website provides lots of practical information, www.visithelgeland.com . See the Arkitekturguide for Nord-Norge og Svalbard (online guide to the architecture of North Norway and Svalbard, www.ub.uit.no/baser/arkinord/), which has more photographs and information about the churches.