Norway is the only country in Northern Europe with wooden churches from the Middle Ages still intact. Heddal Stave Church is the largest of Norway's surviving stave churches and boasts the most impressive and distinctive exterior. The existing chancel is the oldest part probably dating from 1147, while the rest was built in 1242. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is constructed in the form of a stave basilica with 12 large and 6 smaller support posts. There is a continuous gallery around the whole of the church. An extensive restoration and refurbishment programme was completed in 1952.
The Stave Churches are constructions of high quality, richly decorated with carvings. In virtually all of them the door frames are decorated from top to bottom with carvings. This tradition of rich ornamentation appears to go back to the animal carvings of the Viking age. The dragons are lovingly executed and transformed into long-limbed creatures of fantasy, here and there entwined with tendrils of vine, with winding stems and serrated leaves. The elaborate designs are executed with supreme artistic skill. The stave church doorways are, therefore, among the most distinctive works of art to be found in Norway. However, it is difficult to connect them with the Christian gospel.