St Mary's Church, Bergen

St Mary's Church (Norwegian: Mariakirken) is a church in Bergen, Norway. The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 40s and completed around 1180, making the church the oldest remaining building in Bergen.


St Mary's Church is the only remaining of twelve churches and three monasteries built in Bergen between its foundation during the reign of Olav Kyrre (1066–93, traditionally 1070) and the end of the twelfth century. Excavations have revealed the remains of an earlier stone church on the site, probably never completed. Commissioned jointly by the king and the citizens and merchants of Bergen, the construction of the church began in the 1130s or 40s. The exact year of completion is unknown, but the church is mentioned in Sverris saga as where the rebels of the Birkebein Party sought refuge when attacked by a peasant army in 1183. St Mary's Church is likely to have been built by craftsmen from Scania, then part of Denmark. The church's style is remiscient of that of Lund Cathedral in Scania.

St Mary's Church was significantly damaged in the town fire of 1198, caused by an attack on the city by the Bagli Party, enemies of the Birkebein Party. The rebuilding resulted in several architectural changes. Bergen burned again in 1248, a fire which caused an even greater degree of destruction to the church than the earlier fire. As part of the reconstruction after this fire, the towers were heightened and the chancel lengthened. The church was damaged in several later town fires, but never again destroyed to the same degree as in the fire of 1248.

Although having been built as a parish church for the Norwegian population of Bergen, St Mary's Church was taken over by the city's large German population in 1408 after which it was popularly called “the German church” (Tyskekirken). By belonging to the wealthy Germans, St Mary's is richly adorned and escaped the fate of being turned into a ruin, unlike several of the other churches in the city. Not until 1874, long after the German domination in the city had vanished, did it again become an ordinary parish church, even though sermons were held in German until after the First World War. The most recent restoration of St Mary's, led by architect Christian Christie (who would later supervise the restorations of Bergen Cathedral and the Haakon's Hall), lasted from 1863–1876.

The church will be closed for restoration work, Jan 2010 until 2015


St Mary's Church is a two-towered, three-naved, mainly Romanesque style church. The eastern part of the choir shows some Gothic influence reminiscent of the Haakon's Hall, likely caused by the reconstruction after the 1248 fire. The church is constructed mainly in soapstone, the oldest parts being built of the highest quality soapstone. Shale is used sporadically. At least three different types of soapstone is used, and it is likely that the stone comes from several different quarries in the district.