While undertaking excavations in preparation of building a new church on Grímsey, archeologists unearthed relics that indicate humans inhabited the island since shortly after the settlement of Iceland in 870.
The island’s church burned to the ground in September 2021, and plans were underway to erect the new church on the same footprint. However, the unexpected historical findings on the site mean the new church will be built on another plot of land, just four metres to the east.
Among the initial findings on the site of the old church building are the remnants of a church dating to the year 1300, including the cemetery wall of the oldest known church on Grímsey, and graves.
“When this was discovered, it was decided to move the (new) church to protect these graves,” archeologist Hildur Gestsdóttir told RÚV.
The old church
The church that burned down was named Miðgarðakirkja, and was built out of driftwood in 1867. In 1932, it was moved further away from the neighbouring farm due to risk of fire and a tower and choir loft were built on to the structure. The church underwent extensive renovations in 1956 and was reconsecrated that year. The renovation included wood carvings made by Deacon Einar Einarsson both on the outside and inside of the building. Miðgarðakirkja was protected in 1990.
Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.