Nykirken was built in 1621 after the inhabitants on Nordnes had argued that they had such a long and difficult walk to the Cathedral. When completed, the church was named “The New Church” since the other churches in Bergen were already several hundred years old. The name has later become highly appropriate – the church has been rebuilt many times since the seventeenth century.
It was the long and troublesome walk to the Cathedral that brought on a wish for a church of their own among the inhabitants at Nordnes. Earlier there had been several churches at Nordnes, such as the Archangel Michael’s Church at Munkeliv Monastery and St Margareta’s Church at the Nordnes Point. The Archbishop had resided on Nordnes since the late 13th century.
The Archbishop’s residence functioned as a merchant house from the 14th century. The episcopate’s economy was based on tithe, land rent, donations and fines. The Church had large estates in Northern Norway and a sound financial position connected to the fisheries. The Archbishop’s economy was also at times closely connected to the Hanseatics – they arranged for the export of the episcopate’s fish and at the same time the import of goods needed by the Archbishop.
The new church was raised on the remains of the Archbishop’s residence. The condition for using this location, was that the basements of the old residence was maintained and kept in repair.
Today the ruins of the Archbishop’s residence have been excavated and archaeologically examined. The scattered remains of stonewalls within an area of 500 m2 indicate what a large and grand estate this must have been. The residence was most likely built in the second half of the 13th century, but was first mentioned in written sources in 1309. The whole estate was surrounded by thick stone walls, making it a closed up square and appearing like a fortress. The walls surrounding Nykirken remained for a long time. The southeast wing was in 1631 referred to as “the old desolate wall.” The walls under the church still exist.
In 1637 it was decided to use sections of the old wall of the Archbishop’s residence for burials, and four remaining basements were filled up. Later more burial vaults were built at private expense. After the church burnt down in 1756, a new church was built over these burial vaults. They came to lie under the church, but with an entrance from the outside. For a while there were several burial vaults under the church and down towards the sea. Today many of these vaults are refurbished and rebuilt into offices.
In 1863 the graveyard went out of use entirely. After the fire in 1944, the last part of the old graveyard, stretching all the way from Strandgaten down to the sea, was cleared away.
Nykirken first burnt in 1623. The following years the church was upgraded and embellished in many ways, among other things an organ was installed in 1675. The church burnt again in 1756, and on 23 September 1763 a new church was consecrated. In 1800 this church also burnt, and already the next year another new church rose from the ashes. Now nearly 150 years passed by without disasters. But on 20 April 1944 the Dutch ship “Voorbode”, loaded with ammunition for the German occupants, accidentally exploded in the harbour next to Håkon’s Hall. The explosion caused fires and serious damage in great parts of central Bergen. Windows were smashed in the hillsides, and Nykirken was severely damaged. Nykirken was consecrated again as late as in 1956.
The exterior of Nykirken gives associations back to the 17th and 18th century. The baroque portal from 1670, with the monogram of King Christian V, is an intriguing detail. Beyond that, efforts were made over the years to keep the building according to the drawings of the architect J. J. Reichborn from the 18th century. However, and perhaps due to economical reasons, the church existed without Reichborn’s steeple for many years. But when the church was rebuilt and restored in 1956, the steeple from the original drawings was included as well.
To a certain degree details of the interior bear evidence of being from the 1950s. The whole room is bright and open and the pulpit is located halfway up the wall like a small balcony.
As a curiosity it should be mentioned that a certain Salomon Portrayer – who might be identical with the painter Salomon von Haven – put on comedies in the church in 1636. It was said to have been “two pagan stories” that many people were offended by.