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Post details: Church in Borgund

Church in Borgund

There are certain entities that act like beacons in our life. You can think of them as hypothetical sources of light that are clearly visible and do not move around too much. After all they provide us with a sense of orientation so they better be stable, otherwise we'd act like a bevy of spineless flip-flopping pushovers. They are to us what stars used to be to ancient sailors - except that they triangulate our inner space rather than the nightly sky above us.

For me one such entity is the Church in Borgund, an ancient stave church located in a small Norwegian town not very far from one of the arms of Sognefjord. I saw it first in a photography book when I was about 16 and still trying to make some sense of life in communist Czechoslovakia. In those days I spent number of hours listening to the music of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, with the book opened in my lap, my eyes trained on the image of the church and my mind pondering the strange Orwellian reality into which I was born. The simple layout of the church, as well as its placement in the middle of nature sharply contrasted with the twisted and deeply corrupted world around me. In a way this church helped me survive those dark days and its image kept my spirits up while the Soviet Emperors (I mean Party Secretaries) ruled over my country. Part of its appeal also derived from the fact that it was built in Viking times - in an era sufficiently isolated from the craziness and confusion of the modern civilization.

Ever since those days the Church in Borgund was the closest I had to formal religion. The image of that church floated alonside me wherever I went. There is even a piece of Grieg's Piano Concerto that became so closely associated with it that whenever I want to see its shingled roof and four carved dragon heads all I have to do is hum or whistle that short melody.

No wonder when I eventually made it to Norway, I made a point of stopping by and paying my respect to that old structure built by rugged Nordmen many centuries ago. But that was not the last appearance of this church in my life. Recently, I visited South Dakota with two of my friends and during the preparations for this trip a little miracle happened. As I was googling around Rapid City for potential sightseeing locations, my eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of a familiar structure. At first I could not believe what I saw and thought it must have been a mistake. But when I realized that South Dakota had a large Norwegian population, I looked more closely and indeed, there was an exact replica of that church in Rapid City (google "Chapel in the Hills" for directions and more info).

On our way to Rapid City we nearly missed our connecting flight in Denver - after running across half the terminal we caught it literally by a few seconds. So as soon as we picked up our rental car and dropped our bags in the hotel, I dragged my friends to that familiar sight and bowed there to the memory of old Viking warriors whose protective hand has been hovering over me my whole life.

Needless to say that this episode only cemented the unique role of this Church in my spiritual space. It is the Pole Star on the night sky of my soul.



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