bornholm’s round churches

May 8, 2008

visiting bornholm’s round churches was one of the ‘themes’ of our trip. the collection of four churches is a kind of architectural icon for bornholm – they’re all similar in form, materials, and construction (though each has its own individual personality), and were all built between 1150 and 1250. they’re super practical buildings – the round shape of the churches allowed them to serve as storage places for grain and other commodities as well as to defend against viking raids during the unrest of the middle ages. there are also some theories afloat about a connection between the round churches and the knights templar, who were crusading around this time. the churches are two or three stories and are constructed of thick stone walls with central pillars that support circular barrel vaults on each floor. the conical roofs were added in 1600; before that, the churches were crowned with open battlements and embrasures (so they looked more like little castles). i really enjoyed visiting them – and they’re spaced out quite well on the island, so it gave us a chance to see a lot of the in-between. it was fun to search for them, because we could see the conical roofs from so far away…they’re definitely landmarks on the very rural island. and they’re lovely little buildings. so…here’s a mini-tour of bornholm’s round churches:


olsker church is the tallest and slimmest of the four churches – it’s on a hill and is so tall relative to its surroundings that it once served as a navigation point for fisherman at sea; it gets its name from the hero-king ‘olaf the holy,’ a major figure in a battle between the christians and the heathens

the buttresses were added in the 1800s to stabilize it/tiny apse

inside detail/outside detail

we got to climb up to the third level…via this wee door and steep staircase/the wooden roof construction is amazing!!

the round nave and tiny ship hanging from the ceiling; the upper part of the central column is painted with frescoes of biblical scenes/spiral stair to the choir


nyker church (‘new church’ or ‘all saints church’) was built from granite boulders, except for the central column, which was constructed using local limensgade stone

nyker was the smallest of the four churches, with only two stories (it used to have three, but the top level was removed with the battlements)

inside detail/outside detail

the frescoes on the central pillar at nyker church are from the 1300s

the round nave/view to the apse


østerlars (or ‘east st. lawrence’s’) is the largest (and i think most visited) of the four churches

its distinctive buttresses were added in the 1500s and 1600s to keep the walls from pushing outward/view looking straight up at the roof construction – crazy!

indoor detail/outdoor detail

the central pillar of østerlars church is so large that it is inhabitable – its nickname is ‘the oven’…the vaulted space is now used as a baptistery/view of the radiating pew boxes and the altarpiece

the lovely cemetery on the church’s exterior


nylars church is dedicated to st. nicholas

lovely site among the fields/cemetery churchyard

indoor detail/outdoor detail

view of the round nave and the choir…the frescoes on the central pillar of nylars church are the oldest preserved examples on bornholm and date to about 1250

i really liked the bluish color of the pillar stone (‘bornholm silurian limestone’)…and the frescoes depicting scenes from genesis: ‘the creation and fall of man in seven scenes’


2 Responses to “bornholm’s round churches”

  1. Joanne Says:

    I so enjoyed looking at these photos. My maternal great great grandfather, Valerius Michael Peter Valentin, born 19 February 1831, in Nyker, was probably a member of this church. His father and grandfather were also born in Nyker. His great grandfather Peder Larsen was born in Vester Marie in 1738 and died in Nyker in 1778.

    • kidzi Says:

      glad to hear you liked the photos! my trip to bornholm has so far been one of my very favorite travels. searching out and documenting the four round churches gave a good direction to the visit. i hope to visit again someday…! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: