Outside the building, on the grounds of the Hjemkomst Center, is a replica of the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway. A college professor named Guy Paulson built it, combining his love for wood-carving with his ancestral heritage. I must admit that, at the time when I was grabbing our coats to brave the freezing temperatures outside, I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of the church. To me, it was an add-on, an "also ran" - I was there for the ship! I quickly came around, though, as we took in this marvel of craftsmanship. The structure of the church is gorgeous - the columns, roofs, beams, everything about it is beautiful. Then, you get up close and you see the carvings, each piece a work of art. You can mark the ages and the religious feelings of the ages through the carvings and other art, which Dr. Paulson meticulously copied.
The tour did not last nearly long enough, as everyone was freezing and ready to return to the Center. We hurriedly went up to the apse and looked around. It was perfunctory, as the real artwork was behind us. But then, off to the right, cut into the exterior wall, was a small little window, which I believe the guide told us was called the lepers' gate. From the outside, it is stationed on the ambulatory, a covered walkway where lepers and other undesirables could congregate and participate in the mass. I was at once awed and repulsed by the lepers' gate. It represented a dichotomy to me; it was an avenue through which those who were isolated could receive grace, yet also a barrier - part of the isolation from the community.
I had not gone to Moorhead to see the church, least of all the lepers' gate. Yet, once I saw it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It has stayed with me since that trip, and I have not been able to shake it. I loved the dream and the triumph of the Hjemkomst - Robert Asp's story inspires me, but the lepers' gate haunts me. It is this haunting that inspires this blog.