Fantoft Stave Church Burning: A Dark Chapter in Black Metal History

From its ancient origins to its fiery end, the Fantoft Stave Church symbolizes the extreme lengths and enduring controversies of the Norwegian black metal scene in the 90s.

Fantoft Stave Church
Fantoft Stave Church
Key Takeaways
  • The Fantoft Stave Church, dating back to the 12th century, was burned down in 1992, igniting a wave of church burnings in Norway.
  • Varg Vikernes of Burzum was suspected but not convicted for this specific arson, although a photo of the burnt church appeared on his 1993 EP, “Aske”.
  • The incident led to increased scrutiny of the black metal scene and was part of a larger pattern of anti-Christian acts and church burnings linked to the community.

The Dark Symphony of Fire

Ah, the ’90s—a time of grunge, flannel shirts, and, in Norway, church burnings that sent shockwaves through the metal community. The flames that consumed the 1150 Fantoft Stave Church weren’t just devouring wood and history; they were igniting a fuse in the black metal scene. While Varg Vikernes of Burzum got a free pass in the courts for this particular blaze, he wasn’t shy about capitalizing on the event. A snapshot of the charred remains of Fantoft graced the cover of his 1993 EP, “Aske”. It’s hard to discuss Norwegian black metal without the haunting image of that burnt church creeping into the conversation.

The Historical Roots of the Fantoft Stave Church

You’ve got to understand, the Fantoft Stave Church wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill chapel. It was a historical marvel, a time capsule tracing back to the 12th century. Originally perched in the isolated mountain village of Fortun, this grand structure got a change of scenery in 1883. You see, it was carted off to Bergen to dodge the demolition ball.

What really set Fantoft apart was its construction method known as “stave”, where load-bearing logs stand tall and proud, like a metalhead at a Slayer concert. But don’t get too caught up in the nostalgia—the church that burned in 1992 was largely a 19th-century face-lift, complete with dragon-shaped finials and a two-story chancel. A gem of architecture, reduced to ash and cinders.

The Man Behind the Fire?

Varg Vikernes, a name synonymous with the early Norwegian black metal scene, found himself in hot water following the Fantoft Stave Church arson. While Vikernes was never convicted for torching this specific church, all signs pointed to him being the likely culprit. Let’s not forget that the charred Fantoft remnants had their moment of infamy on the cover of his 1993 EP, “Aske” (“Ashes”).

Using the alias “Count Grishnackh”, he not only claimed responsibility for the church burnings but also mentioned a murder in Lillehammer.

But Vikernes didn’t stop at cryptic album covers. In January 1993, he took center stage in an anonymous interview with one of Norway’s leading newspapers. Using the alias “Count Grishnackh”, he not only claimed responsibility for the church burnings but also mentioned a murder in Lillehammer. The interview pushed the already tense black metal scene further into the spotlight and hinted that more church burnings were on the horizon.

And what happened in court? Vikernes faced charges for a slew of arsons, from Åsane Church to Holmenkollen Chapel. While jurors found him not guilty for the Fantoft Stave Church arson, the judges called it an error, leaving the case somewhat unresolved.

Vikernes was eventually convicted in 1994 for first-degree murder, multiple church arsons, and possession of explosives. He served 15 years and was released on parole in 2009. In later conversations, Vikernes reframed the arsons not as Satanic acts but as “revenge” against Christianity for desecrating Viking graves and temples.

From Fantoft to Nationwide Scandal

Let’s step back and look at the larger canvas. The Fantoft Stave Church arson wasn’t an isolated bonfire of zeal; it was a grim stroke in a broader, darker tableau. The black metal community was already a smorgasbord of anti-Christianity, blasphemy, and Satanism. Add a dash of radical ethnonationalist ideologies, and you’ve got a volatile cocktail.

The torching of Fantoft did more than turn ancient timbers into ashes—it ignited scrutiny and investigation into the entire black metal scene. And let’s not mince words: the community was willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths, Fantoft being Exhibit A.

While only four church burnings were definitively chalked up to black metal musicians, the period between 1992 and 2000 saw around 20 arson attacks linked to either satanic or pagan motives. The Fantoft incident wasn’t just a burning ember but a spark that fanned many other flames, making it a symbol of a chaotic, unsettling era in the annals of metal history.