Nestled at the foothills of the Black Hills, The Chapel in the Hills is an exact replica of the Borgund Church in Norway. Built in 1969 as a dream of two men, it is a quiet retreat that is open to visitors.
Joyce Kringen, Managing Director, tells more. “The first was a man named Harry Gregerson, who was a pastor in Sioux Falls, and he was looking for a home for a radio broadcast called Lutheran Vespors. So in his search for about ten years of trying to figure out what to do, they came up with the idea of doing a Stavkirke. And after getting permission from the Norwegian government to do this, the next part obviously was financing. And so there was a local local banker named Art Dahl who was willing to do that. And he purchased the land, paid for everything that had to be done, putting the road in out here with the only stipulation being that he wanted his parents to be honored in the plaque that stands outside of the chapel. So that was many years ago. And now we’re continuing with his mission. My husband and I are the directors working with the board here, and all the rest of the staff are volunteers.”
Kringen continues, “We have a visiting pastors program that the pastors come in, they do the weddings, do the worship services, and they stay in the cabin here on the property. And that’s kind of their reward for being here. The cabin that’s on the far corner of the property was an old Norwegian prospectors cabin that was out in the hills. He was looking for gold and the cabin just dilapidated over the years. And so the pastor that was here, Pastor Hansen, decided that we should move it here on the property and they moved all the parts in and then reconstructed it here on site. It actually took them two years to get that cabin put back together. Now that it’s here, it houses some Scandinavian antiques.”
The Chapel in the Hills also features a prayer walk. Kringen explains, “We put in the prayer walk as a way for people to kind of get a chance to move out into the forest a little bit. And by giving them some thoughts and meditation as they walk up through the prayer walk, we’ve also added a benediction trail to that. So now they can also go through and as they do, they can read plaques that give them the benediction, and then they come out around on the other side of the chapel.”
The gift shop was actually made in Norway. “It was all taken apart, shipped over here and reconstructed on site. And so inside of this gift shop, we have lots of memorabilia, things about the chapel, obviously. But then besides that, we have a lot of consignment, people doing projects for us. We are supported through donations and our sales in the gift shop are the biggest ways in which we keep on running every year.”
The Chapel in the Hills also has activities catered to children. Kringen elaborates, “So the scavenger hunt for children as they come out here…I’m a former teacher so of course I had to think of a way to make kids work while they’re here. And so we put together a list of about ten questions, the things on facts that they need to find out as they travel around, walk around on the grounds. Then we have little prizes for them.”
Kringen says that The Chapel in the Hills is a tourist place but not a tourist attraction with masses of people. The chapel is known for its solitude, peace and quiet.
Taking a tour of the stavkirke, one thing that you will notice is the interesting architectural detail.
Kringen says, “One of the things that I find fascinating about the chapel is the large pillars that go around here. And there are actually 12 pillars that support the whole building. And this is the beginning of the construction. As you follow the pillars up to the top of the building, you’ll notice that there are some carvings up there and those carvings are said to represent the 12 disciples. We’re still trying to learn what that actually means because many of them look like animals to me. So I’m not sure if there’s some symbolism there that I don’t know about yet. But that’s one of the things about the chapel. The one in Norway, they’re still learning in trying to understand some of these things as well. As you move further up into the roof of the chapel, you will notice that it almost looks like an upside down boat. The chapel was built by craftsmen who had been building Viking ships, and so they decided if you could make a Viking ship, you can just turn it around and you can turn it into a roof. And also on the outside of the building, they have some dragon heads and that was also a part of their kind of pagan practices, but they felt if those dragon heads weren’t there like they did on their Viking ships, it was going to give them bad luck. So we have two of those. But the good thing is we have more crosses outside than we have dragon heads.”
There is also a window that was often referred to as a lepers window, but Kringen says “Recently in Norway, they discovered that they don’t think that was really true. They have a feeling it was more like a prayer window. So if you came to church and you wanted to pray and the building was locked, they would leave that little window open. So you were able to see the altar and the cross on the altar and make your prayers feel like they were being heard by God. If you just really needed some time like that.”
Outside the building, is completely surrounded by an ambulatory. Kringen says that there are 3 reasons why the ambulatory was built.
“One of them was it helped for people in inclement weather that they had a place to stand. Another reason it was put there is because back in 1100’s, when this church was built, they had to bring weapons with them wherever they went. But the weapons could not come inside the church, so they were left outside. And probably the most significant reason they did this was architecturally that ambulatory prevents all of the elements of the rain and the snow from getting to the actual structure of the church. And so it makes this last years and years and years.”
Lastly, while touring the church, you may notice the bell tower.
“We ring it whenever there’s a wedding and we ring it whenever we do worship services and the people in the valley get so that they know it must be a wedding time, depending on what time of the day it is.”
During June, July and August the Chapel In the Hills is open from 8 am to 8pm. Worship services begin in June at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit their website here.