Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

On Skólavörðuholt, in the centre of Reykjavík, stands Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. It is the country’s second-tallest building, at 73m [240 ft], and its tower provides breathtaking views of Reykjavík and beyond. Hallgrímskirkja is an Evangelical-Lutheran Christian church. Its name translates to Hallgrímur’s Church, built in memory of honorary Icelandic hymn writer and pastor Hallgrímur Pétursson. In addition to masses, the church has a rich community of social activities and events, both educational and artistic, through art exhibitions, meetings, classes and concerts.

Hallgrímur Pétursson

Hallgrímur Pétursson was an Icelandic pastor and a poet. He moved to Germany and later Denmark to study. There, he met Guðríður, an Icelandic woman who had been kidnapped, along with a group of other Icelanders, by Algerian pirates and bought and freed by the Danish. Hallgrímur taught the group about Christianity. He and Guðríður later moved to Iceland as she carried their child. There, they married, and he became a pastor. Hallgrímur died from leprosy in 1674 at the age of 60. His most famous work is the Passion Hymns, 50 poetic texts that follow the story of Jesus Christ from the time he entered the garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial, often known as the Passion Narrative. These hymns have been translated into multiple languages and are some of the most-read texts in Iceland.

The architect of Hallgrímskirkja church

In 1937, the respected state architect Guðjón Samúelsson began his draft of what would be his last work: Hallgrímskirkja. He had previously designed the main building of the University of Iceland, Landakot Catholic Church, and the National Theatre, all in downtown Reykjavík. He wanted the church to reflect Iceland’s landscape of mountains, glaciers and pillar rock formations.

The construction of Hallgrímskirkja church

The decision to build the church was made in 1929, and Guðjón Samúelsson began drafting its design eight years later. The construction started in 1945, and three years later, the choir’s cellar was sanctified and used as a church hall for masses. In 1973, the larger hall came into use for masses, and then Hallgrímskirkja was consecrated on October 26, 1986, the day before the 312th anniversary of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s passing. The same year, Reykjavík celebrated its 200th anniversary.

The church’s interior

The stained glass window above the church entrance, the glass artwork on the door leading to the nave, the baptismal font and the pulpit are all works of artist Leifur Breiðfjörð. The baptismal font is made from Icelandic basalt columns and Czech crystal and was a gift from the church’s Women’s Association. The pulpit was gifted to the church by former bishop Sigurbjörn Einarsson, the first pastor of Hallgrímskirkja church. In addition, there are notable artworks and sculptures such as Einar Jónsson’s bronze statue in memory of Hallgrímur as well as his statue of Jesus Christ, Guðmundur Einarsson’s painting of Mother Mary with the child, Sigurjón Ólafsson’s Píslarvottur (Martyr) sculpture, and Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir’s icons of archangels Gabriel and Mikael.

The organ in Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. The Organ in Hallgrímskirkja Church.

The largest organ in Iceland

The organ in Hallgrímskirkja church is the largest in the country, with four keyboards, 72 stops and 5,275 pipes, the highest pipe being 10 m [33 ft]. The whole organ is 15 m [49 ft] high and weighs 25 tons. Many of the pipes have been gifted to the church through monetary donations. It is, in fact, possible to purchase a gift certificate in the church shop and receive a document stating that the recipient is the pipe’s owner.

The church bells

Hallgrímskirkja church has three large bells and 26 smaller ones. The largest bell is named Hallgrímur and gives the tone H, and the second-largest is named Guðríður after Hallgrímur’s wife, which provides the tone D. The third largest is named Steinunn, after their daughter, who passed away young. The bell gives the tone E. The church bells ring every 15 minutes, Monday to Friday, from 9 AM to 9 PM, but on weekends and holidays when mass is not held, they ring from noon to 9 PM. The largest bell, Hallgrímur, rings every whole hour.


Breaking the Peace

sögugrein frank

By the 15th century, in the chaotic and violent times of Joan of Arc, the Hundred Years’ War and the War of the Roses, Icelanders had become active participants in the rapidly expanding and highly profitable international trade between the English, German Hanse, Dutch, and Norwegian merchants. This trade would become fraught with tension that […]

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“Legal Uncertainty” Concerning Bishop’s Reappointment

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Ragnhildur Ásgeirsdóttir, Executive Director of the Bishopric appointed her superior, Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, to serve as a bishop temporarily for 28 months, reports Morgunblaðið. However, the reappointment was made without knowledge of the synod, calling its legality into question.

Drífa Hjartardóttir, President of the Church Assembly, stated to Morgunblaðið that “it is strange for a subordinate to make an employment contract with their superior, as in this case. Neither the Church Assembly nor its executive committee were aware of the agreement.”

“I heard about the existence of this contract last week,” she stated further. “I had no idea about it before. I find it very strange that a subordinate can make an employment contract with their superior. We were never informed about this, neither the executive committee of the Church Assembly nor the Church Assembly itself. This came as a big surprise to me, and it’s very unusual.”

Agnes Sigurðardóttir was appointed as a bishop by the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson on July 1, 2012, for five years, and her appointment period was then extended for another five years on July 1, 2017.

The Church Assembly changed the rules regarding the bishop’s election last year. The term is now six years, but this extension did not automatically apply to the current appointment.

As it stood, Agnes’ appointment period should have ended on July 1, 2022. She is now set to hold office until October 31, 2024, though the possibility remains that her appointment may be legally challenged.

New Grímsey Church Hosts First Service After Fire

Grímsey church

The first service was celebrated in the new Grímsey church this Sunday, in a major milestone for the reconstruction.

The historic church, built out of driftwood in 1867 and relocated in 1932, burned to the ground last year in a fire. Although no one was injured, the destruction of the church was a significant loss for the small community.

Read more: Fire Destroys Grímsey Church

The new church has been designed to reference the historical structure, but also to accommodate the modern needs of the community, including use as an event space for the Grímsey islanders.

In an interview with RÚV, Reverend Oddur Bjarni Þorkelsson, parish priest of Grímsey said: “It’s a huge moment. I am not often speechless, but that’s exactly how it was. This is the first time I’ve seen the building after its construction began. It’s so similar to the old church but completely different too. And to see the power of the community and the joy of everyone who came to help, this is a great moment.”

The reconstruction of the church has cost an estimated ISK 120 million, with the original structure being insured for ISK 30 million. Another ISK 20 million has been funded by the state, but much of the remaining amount has had to be collected by the community themselves.

Hateful Graffiti on Church’s Pride Flag Now Matter for the Police

Hateful, anti-LGBTQIA+ messages have twice been spray-painted on the Pride flag adorning the steps leading up to Grafarvogskirkja, a Lutheran church in the district of Grafarvogur on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. There have been two separate incidents of anti-LGBTQIA+ messages being sprayed on the flag. RÚV reports that the incidents have now been referred to the police.

The first message, reading “ANTICHRIST,” was sprayed on the church’s stairway last Saturday. “This was the path up to the church this morning,” wrote Pastor Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir in a Facebook post that day. “It shows how important the rainbow’s message is. This rainbow clearly needs to stand in front of the church and remind us of fellowship, that all people are equally precious, and that love is love.” Pastor Guðrún ended her post with a rainbow of emoji hearts, as well as the Pride and Trans flags.

A photo uploaded in the comments of the original post showed people painting over the hateful graffiti later that morning. Per the caption: “A Swedish family who came to see the church offered to paint over [the message] immediately.”

Family volunteers to paint over hateful graffiti. Image via Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, Facebook

Only days later, on Monday, a different message was tagged on Grafarvogskirkja’s rainbow flag. This time, it read “LEVITICUS 20:13,” referencing a verse from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible which says that men who have sexual relations with other men should be put to death.

Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, FB

“Our beautiful flag has been scribbled on again,” Pastor Guðrún wrote on Facebook. She added that the same chapter in Leviticus also lists off other people who should be put to death, including (but certainly not limited to): anyone who curses their mother and/or father, people who commit adultery, and men who have sex with women who are on their periods.

“We at Grafarvogskirkja choose rather to follow the message of Jesus Christ, who told us to love one another. We believe that each and every person is one of God’s beloved creations and is allowed to live the life that has been predestined for her/them/him.”

The post continued: “The message of Jesus Christ is in full accordance with human rights declarations, and we at Grafarvogskirkja stand for human rights and fight against hatred and prejudice.”

New Church To Be Built In Grímsey This Summer

The Miðgarðar parish committee in Grímsey recently signed a contract with carpentry workshop Loftkastalinn to build a new church to replace the one that burnt down earlier this year. Architect Hjörleifur Stefánsson has been hired as a construction manager and Arna Björg Bjarnadóttir, project manager of Glæðum Grímsey – a campaign to revitalise habitation in the island – has agreed to supervise the project. Everyone involved in the church building has experience with building restoration projects.

The new church will reference the old church but will be larger than the old one due to modern requirements. The design will also take into consideration that the church will be used for other events than church ceremonies. Parts of the church will be prepared on the mainland but the structure is set to be constructed in Grímsey next summer. A notice from the parish committee states that building the new church is a communal project and that the islanders are making every effort to raise funds for the projects. Some funds have already been donated and the people of Grímsey have gratitude for everyone who has already contributed to the project.

On January 1, Grímsey had a population of 57 but not all residents live on the island all year round. In recent years, efforts have been made to reverse steady emigration from the island but as of yet, they’ve proven unsuccessful. The island lies off the north coast of Iceland and is the northernmost inhabited part of the country, situated on the Arctic Circle.

Grímsey Residents Turn Down Offer of Church from Keflavík

The residents of Grímsey island, North Iceland, have turned down the offer of a church building from the Keflavík Airport Firefighting Staff Association, Morgunblaðið reports. Residents are instead fundraising to build a new church after the island’s historic church burned down on September 21.

The staff association offered to give Grímsey residents a church building that is currently located beside the fire station at Keflavík Airport. Alfreð Garðarson, parish council director on Grímsey told Morgunblaðið that while the offer was very generous, residents had decided at a meeting that the church building from Keflavík did not suit the island’s needs.

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants. Named Miðgarðakirkja, the church that burned down on the island was built out of driftwood in 1867. The cause of the fire is being investigated, but it is believed to have started from an old electrical panel.

The Bishop of Iceland has stated that the National Church will assist Grímsey residents to the best of its ability in rebuilding the destroyed church.

Fire Destroys Grímsey Church

The historic church on Grímsey island, North Iceland, was burned to the ground in a fire yesterday, Vísir reports. While no people were injured in the fire, it was not possible to save any items from inside the church. The cause of the fire is unknown.

Named Miðgarðakirkja, the church on Grímsey 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.

Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir, Grímsey church

While the cause of the fire remains unknown, Henning Henningsson, one of Grímsey’s two firefighters, suspects it was an electrical fire. “It was an old electrical panel and there is little else that comes to mind.”

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.

Update: An earlier version of this post included a photo of another church. 

Take Me to Church

It’s a cold Sunday morning as I make my way up Skólavörðustígur towards the mighty Hallgrímskirkja church, a white, tapered structure that towers gracefully over downtown Reykjavík like a huge upside-down icicle. Very few people are out and about, and from the looks of it, most of them are tourists. None of them, however, look like they’re on their way to mass.

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Repairs Begin on Church of Akureyri

Akureyri Iceland

Repairs are finally underway on the Church of Akureyri following vandalism to the building facade two and a half years ago. RÚV reports that repairs are expected to cost over ISK 20 million ($163,863/€147,366).

Residents in the North Iceland town of Akureyri woke one morning in January 2017 to find that four churches had been defaced with hateful slogans and symbols. While it wasn’t difficult for the graffiti to be painted over at three of the churches, the stone cladding of the Church of Akureyri absorbed the paint, making it impossible to effectively cover the damage without major repairs. The church is a major local landmark, having been designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect who designed Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík. As such, its exterior has protected status, making it both complicated and time-consuming to locate the right materials to repair it. Church leaders are now waiting for 14.5 tons of special stone cladding to be delivered so that they can begin repairs in earnest.

“The material is coming, in part, from Norway,” says Gestur Jónsson, the treasurer of the Church of Akureyri council. The council will receive feldspar and obsidian from abroad, but still needs to source Iceland spar as well, in order to match the blend of stones that was originally used in the siding. Once the church acquires the proper mix of stone, master masons will remove the vandalised siding from the church walls and replace it with the new.

The expense of replacing the stone siding will not be funded using parishioners’ congregation taxes. So far, the Church of Akureyri has received ISK 9.5 million ($77,907/69,887) to fund repairs, which will cover repairs to half of the church, including the towers and the southern side. The council’s plan is to continue raising funds and be able to finish repairs to the northern side of the church next summer, thereby avoiding any major visible differences to the texture of the stone.