Viking art, Urnes style
Urnes Stave Church (Norwegian: Urnes stavkirke) is a stave church at the Ornes farm, along the Lustrafjord in the municipality of Luster in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway.
It has been owned by Fortidsminneforeningen (Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments) since 1881. In 1979, the Urnes stave church was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The church was built around 1130 or shortly thereafter, and still stands in its original location; it is believed to be the oldest of its kind. It provides a link between Christian architecture and the architecture and artforms of the Viking Age with typical animal-ornamentation, the so called "Urnes style" of animal-art.
There have been numerous attempts to interpret the decoration (iconography) of the church's most remarkable part, the old portal in the northern wall. The images are generally considered to represent a snake curling upwards. At the lower end there is an animal with four feet biting the snake.
A common interpretation of this scene is that it portrays the eternal fight between good and evil. The animal is widely believed to be a stylised lion. In Christian iconography the lion is a symbol of Christ, fighting the evil symbolized by the snake, a common representation of Satan.
On the other hand, it is possible that the decoration of the earlier church featured some scenes from Norse mythology, a likely reason for its premature reconstruction in the 12th century. In this context, the animal may be interpreted as Níðhöggr eating the roots of Yggdrasil. "The intertwined snakes and dragons represent the end of the world according to the Norse legend of Ragnarök."