Grue Church fire

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Grue Church fire
Date 26 May 1822 (1822-05-26)
Location Grue, Norway
Coordinates 60°28′18″N 12°2′59″E / 60.47167°N 12.04972°E / 60.47167; 12.04972Coordinates: 60°28′18″N 12°2′59″E / 60.47167°N 12.04972°E / 60.47167; 12.04972
Deaths At least 113

The Grue Church fire happened in Grue, Norway, on 26 May 1822[1] and took the lives of between 113 and 117 churchgoers. It is the biggest fire disaster in the history of Norway.

The church[edit]

The old Grue Church was located close to Skulstad, north-west of Kirkenær in Solør. The oldest section of the church stemmed from the 13th century and was built using the stave method. The church was rebuilt around 1600 with the addition of two transepts built with round, hand-worked, logs and one tall central tower. Above the nave and the two transepts there were wide galleries, allowing the church to house 600–700 people.

Both the nave and the transepts had entrance doors which swung inwards. When in open position they also blocked the entrance door to the galleries. The leaded frame stained glass windows were placed high up on the wall and were covered by an iron grid on the outside. The exterior of the church was covered with pine tar. Calculations that were later done estimated that 17 tons of tar had been applied between 1600 and 1822.

The fire[edit]

On Pentecost the church was filled to capacity.[2] It was a bright and hot day early in the summer.[2] In the middle of the sermon that was preached by the vicar, Iver Hesselberg, a fire broke out on the outer wall of the southern transept, and soon the fire broke in. Within 10–15 minutes the church was completely engulfed and soon burned to the ground.

Evacuation was hampered by the way in which the doors had been constructed, and a panic arose inside the church where everyone fought each other to escape. The official death count is 113, however the figures 116 and 117 are also mentioned. Among the people who were incinerated there were a mere 7 adult men. At least 45 of the fatalities were children under 16 years. Many were trapped in the stairs coming down from the galleries, where the unmarried women used to sit. Those who had managed to get out tried to keep the doors open, but this was made difficult by the pressure on the doors from the inside and the ferocious heat. Some saved themselves escaping through the windows, the vicar among them. Many of the survivors had severe burns. Only one of the dead could be identified - Vogt Dines Guldberg Høegh - by his sabre.[2] The sabre is today on display in the sacristy of Grue Church.

On 1 June the victims were buried in five coffins (Høegh in a separate coffin) at the site of the blaze.

The cause of the fire was never discovered. One theory speculates that a spark from a fire vessel in which the church servant brought embers from the neighbouring farm to light the altar candles with could have ignited the wall. Another theory was that someone had experimented with a burning-glass outside the church.

On the ground in front of the new church a standing stone was erected in 1922 in remembrance of the people that perished in the fire.[1] The new church which is located in the center of Kirkenær was ready in 1828. In the spring of 2005 an historical marker was erected at Skulstad, immediately to the south of where the old church was located. One old and one recent map shows the course of the river then and now. The site of the old church is today in the middle of the river Glomma.

One consequence of the Grue Church fire was a law which was passed the following year prescribing that all doors of public buildings must swing outwards.[1][2]

The disaster has been dealt with including philosophically in the novel Lyksalig pinsefest (En: Blissful Pentecost: Four Dialogues with Jørgen) by Peter Wessel Zapffe.


  1. ^ a b c "Kirkene i Grue" (in Norwegian). Grue, Norway: Grue municipality. 30 March 2009. Archived from the original on 29 May 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d Dåstøl, Astrid (29 May 2009). "1882: Da 113 brant inne under pinsegudstjenesten". Vårt Land (in Norwegian). Oslo, Norway. Retrieved 29 May 2009.  (Newspaper article based on Guthe, Andreas Stub; Henriksen, Thor; Moen, Erik; Søråsen, Einar (1972) "Grue kirkes brann. Pinsedag 26. mai 1822. Et 150 års minne")