RIPA Documentary: Construction of the church

When the Christians came to Denmark, led by Archbishop Ansgar they approached the powerful men and offered them riches and gifts. The Earl of Ribe was ordered by King Horik to build Ansgar´s new church. Since Horik was a strong king, the Earl of Ribe executed his command. The Earl was baptized and soon many of the common folk followed him into the new religion. Christianity had come to Ribe. On the other side of the stream, a piece of land was appointed, whereat the church was to be build.

The oak trees that were used as building materials were selected by the master builder. They had to be so wide that two men could only just reach each other around the tree. The oak trees were transported by steers from the area to the east where trees grew taller than here by the west coast. Some trees were chopped to planks that were to be used for the walls and roof. Others were chopped into square posts that should form the frame of the church. Eight large oak pillars were dug into the ground to shape the church nave. The large amount of moisture in the soil made the pillars vulnerable to rot, where they were dug down.

Therefore, the tree was burnt to coal in a band around each pillar, so it would not rot easily. Under each wall plate, they put large rocks called “syldsten”. Their purpose was to support and create space between the ground and the wall plate. Between rock and wall plate, they put birch bark which naturally contains tar and thus prevented the moisture from the ground in reaching the tree. Each plank was made by splitting a tree trunk of a fitting size. Afterwards it was chipped with broadaxe and cutting axe. Then smaller axes. And lastly, planer and chisel. In every wall plate and wall plank a groove was made that was cut out with chisel and mallet.

Then it was scraped clean with a scraper of a fitting size. Between each wall plank they used a loose “tongue” to assemble the planks. The so called tongue is a smaller piece of wood that both fastened and sealed between the planks and made it possible for the wood to shrink, as it naturally did when it dried in. As the construction got taller, they build a scaffolding around the church. It was made with unbarked rafters cause there was no reason to waste the good and straight timber for such a temporary construction. A crooked rafter could still be a strong support. To get the timber up i height, a hoist of pulleys and rope was constructed. Above the church nave the ceiling was made of short but finely finished ceiling planks. The planks were fit in a “rabbet”, which had been carved out in the ceiling beams.

It ensured that the church got a neat ceiling, and that the church nave became sonorous. As the rafters were finished, they were raised in the stud holes that were carved out in the end of the ceiling beams. They were fastened with oblique beams to stabilize the roof truss. Afterwards, preparations for the bell chair were made. The beams were laid down in each other and nailed together. Before the roof was installed, planks were placed in the gable ends. Each plank was specifically adapted the gable opening, so the gable was tightened around the overlaps. By the eaves they placed a fascia that was nailed to the roof. A fascia is a thin, long and wide plank that closes of the church from wind and weather. The roof planks were made of tall and straight trees to get as long planks as possible. Thereby, the planks could reach over the highest amount roof trusses. They had to adapt every single plank to the previous one. It was a slow proces. The adaption and setting up of one row, consisting of three planks took one man a whole day of work. The church had doors that pointed south, west and north.

They were made of heavy oak. And they did not hold back in the creation of locks and hinges. Long iron hinges decorated the church doors and were a symbol of great value. The master builder came from Tosted, an area around Hamburg. However, the wood carver was a traveller from north who supposedly had made carvings for the Queen of Oseberg. But I recognize some of the carvings from goods found at the market here in Ribe so he must also have been inspired by local motives. Each of the twelve pillars was adorned with a wheel cross. One was carved, for each of White Christ apostles. In the end, the bronze bell of the church was hung up in the bell chair.

It was attached to multiple points both to stabilize it, as well as to make it possible to swing it, and thereby ring. The bell had to be able to swing freely, but could not be fastened to the tower itself as they wanted to avoid that the whole building was put in motion. Even during the construction, the church was a gathering point for the Christians. The decision to build the church and the distinctive magnificence of the building established the Christians´ new place in the society. The church also had a great influence on the influx of christian merchants and traders who not only benefited from the protection of the Earl, but from the protection from their own God.