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The site of the newly discovered rare ancient Viking temple found in Norway with an imagined reconstruction of the actual building.   Source: University Museum of Bergen

Viking Temple to Thor and Odin Unearthed In Norway

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The Viking Age has fascinated people for generations and now we have a newly discovered ancient Viking temple that has finally shed some new light on Norse religion . Believe it or not, there is a lot we don’t know about these fearsome warriors and daring explorers. For example, scholars know relatively little about specific Viking religious practices. For this reason, the discovery of this ancient Viking temple in Norway, dedicated to the Norse Gods, is an exceptionally important discovery.

An Early Viking Settlement And A Rare Ancient Viking Temple

Recently, a group of archaeologists, from the University Museum of Bergen, have been excavating a massive site on the Ose farm near Ørsta, in western Norway. Their work is part of a recovery project before the construction of a massive new housing project in the area. The experts believe that the site was an early Viking era settlement that dates to 1200 years ago, based on the remains of longhouses found there. Traces of an even earlier agricultural settlement were also found.

 

The site of the newly discovered rare ancient Viking temple found in Norway with an imagined reconstruction of the actual building. ( University Museum of Bergen )

However, the most exciting discovery made at the site was that of a pagan temple . Evidence of Viking religion and especially places of worship are scarce in Scandinavia. Typically, evidence of religious worship before the coming of Christianity consists of artifacts. Life in Norway reports that “Now for the first time, firm traces of a house of worship have been found in Norway.”

The remarkable discovery was made in the western section of the site and at first the team believed that they had found a large longhouse. The dimensions of the ancient Viking temple are approximately: 46 feet (14 m) in length, and 26 feet (8 m) in width. The original structure may have been as high as 40 feet (12 m). It was supported by wall posts, which were very sturdy. Life in Norway reports that “The interior of the building lacks the typical double rows of roof-supporting posts in its construction, commonly observed in the contemporary three-aisled longhouses.” In the interior archaeologists found the remains of four large posts some 12 feet apart (3m) that supported the roof.

Ancient Viking Temple Was Known As A “God House”

The ancient Viking temple the archaeologists found was designed in a way that made it quite different from a typical longhouse.  The structure was more like the few Viking temples that have been found, such as the temple discovered at Tissø in Denmark. News in English reports that “It’s believed such temples were used by cults, for worshipping and sacrifices.” Experts have noted that latest ancient Viking temple is smaller in scale than the few others that have been found. Live Science was told by Søren Diinhoff, who took part in the study, that “This is the first Old Norse temple found in the country.” This means this religious structure is the only one ever found in Norway and that makes it a major find!

The excavation site in Norway that shows the outline of the supporting structure. ( University Museum of Bergen )

The temple would have been known as a “God House.” Diinhoff told Life in Norway that the site was used for large celebrations “and that sacrifice to the gods has clearly happened here.” Most likely large-scale winter and summer solstice events were celebrated in this temple.  Worshippers would have made dedications to wooden statues of Thor, Odin and Freya. And there would have been a lot of feasting during these celebrations in honor of these deities.

Evidence Of Ritual Feasting And Blood Sacrifices

The evidence to support this view rests on the large number of cooking pits found around the structure. The animals sacrificed to the gods in these pits would have been cooked for human consumption. Diinhoff told Live Science that “You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking.” The Vikings believed that Odin, Thor and the other gods would only participate in the feasts in spirit, while the food would be consumed by the people. Life in Norway reports that “A ritual Norse sacrificial feast probably involved the blood of sacrificed animals splashed over walls, statues of gods and participants.”

Further evidence that the site was used for ritual purposes includes the discovery, some years ago, of a cultic object. A large white stone phallus was unearthed by archaeologists not far from the site of the temple. Live Science reports that Diinhoff stated that “A large white ‘phallus’ stone, roughly representing the male genital organ, was also found nearby several years ago and was probably part of the Old Norse fertility rituals.”

The design and structure of the newly discovered ancient Viking temple in Norway was quite different from a typical Viking longhouse, like this one in Denmark. (Ricochet64 / Adobe Stock)

The design and structure of the newly discovered ancient Viking temple in Norway was quite different from a typical Viking longhouse, like this one in Denmark. (Ricochet64 / Adobe Stock )

The Destruction Of Norse Temples During Christian Times

The dated remains of the ancient Viking temple in Norway are connected with an important period in Viking religion. This was a time when the local people were coming under the influence of Roman and other societies, and class differences began to increase. Diinhoff said to Live Science that “When the new socially differentiated society set in, in the Roman Iron Age, the leading families took control of the cult.” Basically, the local elite wanted to demonstrate their power, and commitment to their religion.

This in turn may be related to growing Viking interactions with the Christian populations of Europe. Many Norse warriors who traded and travelled in Christian lands were impressed by their basilicas and churches. Norse temples, like the one found in western Norway, may have been partly modelled on Christian churches. The Vikings were not just robbers of churches they were also influenced by them. Moreover, Christianity prompted the Vikings to develop a more coherent and ideological religion.

The old Viking religion was suppressed in the 11 th century in Norway like the rest of Scandinavia. This was linked to the emergence of centralized monarchies. Many pagan temples and shrines were suppressed, often violently, but there is no evidence that the recent discovered ancient Viking temple in Norway was affected by these changes.

Top image: The site of the newly discovered rare ancient Viking temple found in Norway with an imagined reconstruction of the actual building.   Source: University Museum of Bergen

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Hi Ed,

This is exciting news thank you for sharing can't wait to learn more about this Temple.

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