The white church at Honningsvåg (Honningsvåg Kirke) – the sign of hope
It is only one of many wooden churches in Norway, but it is the only one in its area. It is also one of the northernmost churches in Europe. Honningsvåg Kirke church on the North Cape island of Magerøya. It becomes exciting and touching at the same time when you deal with their story.
For example, if you take the Hurtigruten to Honningsvåg on Magerøya and drive from here to the North Cape, you will notice the modest snow-white church in the middle of the small town, Honningsvåg Kirke. This is the oldest building on Magerøya and it was allowed to stand when everything around it was in ruins. During this difficult time, the Honningsvåg Kirke church became the base for a new beginning. Can there be a more beautiful Christian symbol? We sit down in this church in the middle of Honningsvåg and encounter its history.
The first churches on the North Cape island of Magerøya
If you visit the small fishing villages on the North Cape island of Magerøya, you will notice that they are on the coast of the island. Because the Barents Sea was once rich in fish and so the fishermen did not have to travel long distances to the fishing grounds. As early as 1589, every small fishing village had its own little church. There was one each in Gjesvær, Tunes, Opnan, Helnes, Lille Skarsvåg and Kjelvik. The first church is said to have been built in Kjelvik shortly before 1500.
Stormy times on Magerøya
Anyone who has been to Magerøya during the winter half of the year has a sense of how dramatic the weather in this region can be. Sometimes even the E69 European route is completely closed for the days of the storm. Such storms have repeatedly made the fishing settlements uninhabitable and driven people out of the small villages.
And so the small town of Kjelvik got a new church in 1844, other places were already deserted at that time. The church in Kjelvik was therefore the only remaining church on Magerøya. But again a severe hurricane hit Magerøya. That was in the year 1882. The hurricane raged across the whole of Finnmark and was so severe that people have not seen it for a long time. He destroyed everything that stood in his way. And the church in Kjelvik could no longer withstand this storm. Nothing that was left of her.
A new church year in Honningsvåg on Magerøya
A new church was needed, but it should be easy for everyone to reach. And so it was considered to build it centrally in Sarnes or in Honningsvåg. Ultimately, the central location and the sheltered harbor spoke in favor of Honningsvåg. So the fishermen could come here by boat in quiet times.
But what should the new church in Honningsvåg (Honningsvåg Kirke) look like? The first draft by the architect J.W. Nordan showed a classic longship in which 210 people could sit for worship. But would the size be enough? After all, around 800 fishermen from outside came into these waters every spring, and they too should find space. A church with 400 seats would be appropriate. But in the end reality won and the church was built in Honningsvåg with 255 seats.
They looked to see who had experience of being able to build a house of worship in such a region that was marked by wind and weather. The builder D.G. Evjen, under whose direction some churches have already been built in Finnmark. On October 22, 1885, almost three years after the last church on Magerøya was destroyed, the church in Honningsvåg was consecrated. Probst Balke came from Karasjok by boat. In 1910 the cemetery was laid out next to the church, and in 1930 it was expanded.
Occupation and destruction on Magerøya during World War II
With the occupation of Norway by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War, Magerøya also gained strategic importance and came under German control. On July 14, 1942, there was a heavy Allied bombing raid on Honningsvåg, and eleven people lost their lives.
If the Wehrmacht wanted to conquer Murmansk in Russia from Finnmark, the tide turned and Russian soldiers pushed the occupiers back more and more. But the German soldiers shouldn’t leave any logistics behind to the Russians if they fled.
Regardless of whether it was fishing boats or houses, everything was destroyed, bombed, set on fire or set on fire in the scorched earth. The island of Magerøya was not spared from that, nor was Honningsvåg. On October 28, 1944, Hitler ordered the forced evacuation of Finnmark, which had to take place by November 10, 1944. About 100 people hid in the mountains on Magerøya.
On November 6th, the destruction of Skarsvåg, Kamøyvær, Tufjord and Gjesvær began. On November 11th, the order recipients of the German Wehrmacht set fire to all houses and remaining boats in blind obedience in Nordvågen and on November 13th 1944 also in Honningsvåg. On Christmas Eve, Hitler’s henchmen were done with their maddened destruction.
… and they had no place in the hostel …
That evening one would have read from the Christmas story in all German church services
Everything was in ruins. Nothing that the British, Russians or Americans could use for a landing or occupation was in place. Instead, mines were laid.
New start on Magerøya
The people of Magerøya had lost their homeland, they were scattered somewhere in Norway, often in camps, because they had to be housed. Then came the redeeming May 8, 1845. The Nazi system capitulated. And so the people of Magerøya couldn’t wait to finally come home again, to their beloved island, to their beloved church.
The first returnees came in the summer of 1945 and they saw this endless destruction. But one thing stood. Someone had so much respect for Christmas on Christmas Eve, at the end of the Scorched Earth campaign, that they did not set fire to Honningsvåg church. In contrast to the other churches in Finnmark.
Surrounded by black, charred beams, by burned boards, by a desert of destruction, there it stood, unscathed, the white church at Honningsvåg. It became a sign of hope for Magerøya, for Honningsvåg. A sign of a new peace.
The first returnees now used the church in Honningsvåg to spend the night, setting up their camp and a provisional field kitchen here. They even opened a small bakery in Honningsvåg Church. More than 100 people were cared for by Honningsvåg Church. People used every imaginable place to sleep, whether it was in the tower, on the benches, under the pulpit or at the altar. A world can’t move more symbolically, can it?
They quickly built new, simple barracks in the center of Honnngsvåg and so it came about that in the same year, 1945, they were able to celebrate Honningsvåg Christmas Eve and Christmas in this white church. Can Christmas be more beautiful?