The mountain graveyard at Østerbø
Approximately 150 meters from Østerbø Fjellstove there is a historically preserved piece of land surrounded by a low stone wall. This is the mountain graveyard at Østerbø, in use between the years 1859 and 1911. The early farmers in Aurlandsdalen Valley struggled to work the soil up here in the wastelands, far from the village below. When somebody died they were buried at this spot.
In winter, the path to the village was nearly impossible to walk, so funerals in the winter mostly lacked the priest. To preserve the traditional rite of passage, a pole was placed vertically on top of the coffin, before the grave was filled. In the summer when the priest finally was able to visit Østerbø, the pole was removed so the priest could throw three scoops of soil on the coffin and complete the ceremony.
Before the mountain farmers had their own burial grounds, they would endure a long and difficult journey full of hazards to reach the nearest church and priest. The dead were carried down the valley on narrow footpaths and over mountain gaps to get to the churchyard in Aurlandsvangen (the center of Aurland). To carry a corpse down the valley in the wintertime meant fighting for your own life. Bad weather and masses of snow made it impossible to transport the dead to Aurland in just one day. Often the farmers spent the night under a large overhanging rock halfway between Østerbø and Sinjarheim. Close by there was a birch tree named “Likbjørki” (Birch of the dead). They lifted the corpse up into the tree to keep it safe from wild animals during the night. It is told that “Likbjørki” always looked sick, with brown leaves (though it lived until recently) and that horses passing it would get anxious and try to back away from the tree.
In 1953 a tombstone was erected in the mountain graveyard, inscribed with the names of all 27 resting there. The last person buried in the graveyard was Sven Svendsen. He was also the last farmer here. From 1895 through to his passing in 1911, Sven Svendsen and his wife Ragnhild lived and worked this farm, known today as Østerbø Fjellstove.