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Norway's Demon Wall

Atlas Obscura reveals the existence of a strange wall in Norway called The Demon Wall. Read this to understand its history:

The demons are tiny, and legion. Scowling, tongue-flicking devils, no bigger than a thumbnail, and strange animals pile together in a tangle of dog legs and rabbit ears, each smaller than the next. The lines of the painting are so fine that the tiniest figures seem to pull the viewer into an infinite Satanic menagerie.

The story of how the demonveggen, or demon wall, came to be is as strange and disturbing as the mural itself. It’s a tale of scandal, fraud, and possible madness that begins with Gerhard Gotaas, one of Norway’s leading conservators of the mid-20th century. His work preserving and restoring medieval church art was wide-ranging and respected. But in 1940, when he entered a small village church in Sauherad to restore centuries-old artwork, he saw demons. Researchers determined earlier this year that, instead of reviving a 17th-century painting, Gotaas actually spent two years creating a monstrous mural from his own imagination. That revelation is just part of the story, however. Scant and contradictory clues only deepen the mystery of what might have possessed him to create the hellish image.

“We couldn’t believe it. We were shocked by how much he really did,” says Susanne Kaun, a conservator at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (NIKU). Kaun undertook the demon wall investigation with her colleague, art historian Elisabeth Andersen. Through archival research and scientific analysis of the mural itself, the team discovered not only that Gotaas invented the demons, but also that he destroyed all remnants of the original art, painted more than 300 years earlier. “That’s really the most shocking thing, from a conservator point of view,” says Kaun. “He found something there that was old, and he painted over that. He changed what he found. He has to have known what he did.”

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