My April 15 post, “Roots in Biri, Norway,” has a couple photos of the Biri church, built in 1777, but I thought it would fun (and good for the record) to include here more information. The Norwegian website from Rolf Steinar Bergli has the material I am offering in English (not my translation) in edited form. Perhaps this risks being too much information, but it may inspire you to return to the interior church photo of the April 15 post.
Biri Church is located in the hills just outside the center of Biri, well north of Gjøvik, but within the municipal boundaries. (Biri was a separate municipality from 1910 to 1964.) This is not the first church site.
A legend tells of a church yard at Hov on the hillside above Biri, though its existence seem not documented. It is certain, however, that the former was a stave church at the farm Sigstad* (see note below) close to today’s church. The construction year is not known – maybe we are talking about 1200’s – and it stood until the present church was built [in 1777]. Around 1660, it was expanded into a cruciform shape. Over the years the church declined and was also too small. It was decided to build a new church, but there remain some old artifacts from this church. It is believed that Lars Borg carved altarpiece in 1703. The upper and lower pair of wings are still in the church, but other parts of the piece are spread around: A panel depicting the Eucharist is used in the altarpiece in Nykirke in Snertingdal, while a panel of the Crucifixion is in the Norwegian Folk Museum. Evangelist figures from this board are also in Nykirke. A crucifix and a statue of Mary with the child is to be found in Oldsaksamlingen in Oslo (Cultural Museum). An epitaph from the 1600’s is still found in today’s church (in the chancel south wall).
Click here on Biri kirke for an exterior view of the 1777 church (and this page’s information in Norwegian.)
The current Biri church is a notched cross church from 1777 with 450 seats. The builder was Amund Nilsen Gloppe, who also built the church in Seegård Snertingdal in 1781, the one that burned in 1994. The Church has a crossed turret. Biri church was repaired and restored in 1862, 1884, 1936-38 and 1954. It appears that it avoided the worst of modernization hysteria at the end of the 1800s, but the blue ceiling with white clouds was painted white, the walls were painted gray, and korskranke, floors and walls brown. So it was all reversed in 1930 – and 1950’s. The building was naturally upgraded in terms of heating, lighting, etc. In 2007 the roof was repaired, and the church was painted exterior.
Inside the church is characterized by Peter Kastrud’s inventory of gilt acanthus carvings. Kastrud carved the altarpiece, pulpit and korskranke. The altarpiece has strong similarities with Kastrud’s board in Åmot Rena Church, which he cut a short time in advance, which in turn is inspired by the board in Kastrud’s Fåberg home church (where the pictures since been replaced). In the two middle images we see the Supper and the Crucifixion with Mary and John. Around the Eucharist are the figures of Moses (left) and Jesus. The corresponding figures are about the crucifixion of Aaron (left) and John the Baptist. While the pulpit in Åmot seems like a clean copy of the one in Fåberg, the Biri-chair is more consecutive round in the basic form (barrel shape), and it has sweet engleansikter which somehow brings to mind back to Nicolai Borg, even if the style is another. On top of the ceiling, we find the monogram Kristian VII. On korskranken treriksvåpenet guarded by two wild men.
The font’s originator seems to be a mystery. There was declared to be a need for a new baptismal font in 1953, and it is possible that the font was designed by Bjarne Hvoslef, who led the restoration. In the anniversary book, it is said that it would have been strange if Kastrud had not also made the baptismal font, but such a Kastrud font is not found.
The church must have had its first organ in 1780, when it first employed an organist. This was repaired after fifty years, and in 1882 a new organ came from August Nilsen in Christiania. The current organ is from the Norwegian Organ and Harmoniumfabrikk and was inaugurated on 21 March 1965. It’s in the organ gallery in the west. The church has a relatively new concert grand piano used for a number of concerts.
In the cemetery possibly the oldest area is east of the church. Newer areas were opened in 1892, 1902, and 1942. The vicarage is situated on the south side of Øverbygd Road. The church is also a stop along the pilgrimage route to Nidaros, which is marked by a stone that marks the 424 kilometers to Nidaros.
*Note: The Sigstad farm was the residence of Oline Olsdatter (Gina’s grandmother) at the time of her May 22, 1831 marriage to Thor Tostensen in the Biri church.