Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies Wins Design Award

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The University of Iceland’s new Centre for Icelandic Studies, called Edda, has won the 2023 Icelandic Design Award in the “Place” category. The jury called the building “characteristic and impressive” and praised the attention to detail in its design. Edda will soon house an exhibition of Iceland’s most valuable manuscripts that will be open to all.

“Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies, is a characteristic and impressive building,” the jury statement reads. “The project was carried out with professionalism, artistry, and attention to every detail inside and out. The oval shape and unique texture of the exterior suggest the value of its contents. The building stands in a shallow, reflective pool and the outside is clad with a copper shell with stylized copies of text from manuscripts, which both decorate the walls and spark curiosity about what lives within. Edda is a bright and open building where beautiful courtyards give the interior spaces air and light.”

Open Books: The New Centre for Icelandic Studies

Edda was designed by Hornsteinar Architects. It was built to house The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, several University of Iceland departments concerning Icelandic language and literature, and an exhibition of the Árni Magnússon Institute’s manuscript collection that will be open to all.

 

Deep North Episode 36: Open Books

icelandic literature

Iceland’s Medieval manuscripts, dating back to the 12th century, are often cited as the country’s most valuable cultural heritage. For the general public, however, chances to view these priceless tomes have been few and far between. For the past decade or so, if you wanted to lay your eyes on them, you’d have to head to Reykjavík, to the University of Iceland’s Árnagarður building, and be buzzed into a locked corridor. If you’re granted permission to see the rare and valuable tomes, you’ll be escorted down to the basement and into a cramped room. The door will be locked behind you – in order to protect the artefacts. It’s hardly a welcoming or accessible environment, but that’s about to change.

Read the story here.

12,000 Guests Visit New Centre for Icelandic Studies

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The inauguration of the University of Iceland’s new Centre for Icelandic Studies last Thursday proved to be well-attended, with 12,000 guests stopping by to visit the state-of-the-art building that will soon house Iceland’s most valuable Medieval manuscripts. To celebrate its completion, the new centre hosted an open house on April 20 last week, the First Day of Summer.

At the inauguration, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir revealed the name of the new Centre: Edda. The name references both the Prose and Poetic Edda, seminal works in the study of Old Norse poetry and is also a woman’s name in modern Icelandic. The name was chosen from some 1,500 submissions. Lilja explained that the winning name is both uniquely Icelandic and internationally known, referencing the centre’s function while also complementing other building names on the University of Iceland campus.

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies
Golli. Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies.

The University of Iceland’s Árni Magnússon Institute is in the process of moving its operations into the new centre, which will house the institute’s collection of Medieval Icelandic manuscripts as well as featuring specially-designed rooms for conservation, research, and exhibition of the artefacts. A library, café, lecture halls, and classrooms will also be part of the facilities.

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies
Golli. Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies.

The Icelandic Parliament originally decided to finance the building of the centre in 2005, but the construction faced several delays, most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Centre for Icelandic Studies to Acquire Manuscripts on Long-Term Loan

icelandic manuscript heimskringla

The Danish government has agreed to the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies’ request to loan Icelandic manuscripts on a long-term basis. RÚV reports.

The manuscripts in question would be displayed at the new centre for Icelandic manuscript studies, which has yet to be named. Originally financed in 2005, the new centre recently ended its open call for naming suggestions and is expected to open this April.

Read more: Danish Professor Reluctant to Repatriate Manuscripts

A committee will review the suggested name and select the best, to be revealed at the building’s upcoming opening.

However, not all are in support of relocating the manuscripts. Danish academics have resisted possible repatriation, stating the manuscripts are a part of Danish cultural heritage as well.

Some Icelandic academics have likewise cast doubt on the utility of bringing certain manuscripts back to Iceland. In 2019, professor Viðar Pálsson at the University of Iceland stated: “From a purely academic point of view, if the manuscripts go home to Iceland, I do not know in what way, if any, it would strengthen scholarship there.”

Highlighting the potential dangers of transporting historical manuscripts, he further stated: “In the past centuries, people defined what manuscripts were considered Icelandic. Many of the manuscripts would fall into a grey area, but virtually all manuscripts that we can say are mainly Icelandic have been brought back. But there are also some manuscripts that we could describe as rather Icelandic than anything else that we may nevertheless want to recover at some point. Of course, there are manuscripts in the Danish archives containing prized Icelandic sagas, but then there were manuscripts containing more prosaic legal material, royal narrative material and so on that originate in Iceland but are not necessarily Icelandic in content.”

Despite such objections, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir has been eager to acquire the manuscripts on behalf of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies.

The manuscripts in question would be displayed with the latest technologies at the new centre. Estimates state that the long-term loan will cost some 250 million ISK [$1.8 million; €1.7 million].

According to RÚV, the loan request is currently being processed by the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen. A response is expected promptly.

 

 

50 Years Since First Icelandic Manuscripts Were Returned from Denmark

Hús íslenskunnar

Today marks 50 years since the repatriation of two of Iceland’s most important medieval manuscripts. The Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda (Konungsbók Eddukvæða) and the Codex Flateyensis (Flateyjarbók) were returned to Iceland from Denmark on this day in 1971, a remarkable and symbolic event in Iceland’s history. Now a state-of-the-art building is under construction in Reykjavík that will be a new home for Iceland’s most valuable manuscripts. President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir will lay the cornerstone of the building today, which will be named the House of Icelandic Studies, in honour of the momentous anniversary.

Most Remarkable of Manuscripts

The Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda is widely regarded as the most remarkable of all old Icelandic manuscripts. It is the sole source for most of the poems it contains, many of which are important sources for the worldview and religious beliefs of pre-Christian Scandinavians. The codex was discovered in 1643 and sent as a gift to King Frederick III of Denmark in 1662. It was kept in the Royal Library in Copenhagen until 1971, when it was brought back to Reykjavík by ship. It was accompanied by the Flateyjarbók, the largest medieval Icelandic manuscript, containing mostly sagas of the Norse kings as well as accounts relating to the Vinland colony, the Orkney Islands and the Faroe Islands.

Read More: Medieval Icelandic Manuscripts Soon Housed in New Facility

“It is a pleasure to commemorate this milestone in light of the fact that now the wheels are turning, the construction of the House of Icelandic Studies is going faster than hoped for and we are considering increased collaboration with Denmark on the future of Árni Magnússon’s manuscript collection. We all have a shared duty to preserve, research, and distribute these national treasures to new generations,” stated Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Education and Culture.

The House of Icelandic Studies is expected to reach completion on August 1, 2022. Below is a video of the construction process so far.

Benefits of Retrieving the Manuscripts Unclear

Njáls saga manuscripts.

It is unclear how beneficial it will be for Iceland to recover more of the Icelandic manuscripts that have been kept in Denmark since the 18th century, RÚV reports. Moving them could jeopardize important scientific work in the field of Ancient and Nordic studies, according to Dr Viðar Pálsson, associate professor of History at the University of Iceland.

The Ministers of Education of Iceland and Denmark decided yesterday to establish a consulting committee on items of common cultural values between the two Nordic countries. Lilja Alfreðsdóttir and Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen discussed Lilja’s proposal to review how the manuscripts are being shared. Lilja has repeatedly expressed interest in Iceland recovering some more of the manuscripts preserved in Denmark, where there remain about seven hundred Icelandic manuscripts.

“In the past centuries, people defined what manuscripts were considered Icelandic. Many of the manuscripts would fall into a grey area, but virtually all manuscripts that we can say are mainly Icelandic have been brought back. But there are also some manuscripts that we could describe as rather Icelandic than anything else that we may nevertheless want to recover at some point. Of course, there are manuscripts in the Danish archives containing prized Icelandic sagas, but then there were manuscripts containing more prosaic legal material, royal narrative material and so on that originate in Iceland but are not necessarily Icelandic in content,” says Dr Viðar.

Unknown consequences

According to Viðar there are general ideological and cultural arguments for calling for the recovery to Iceland of all and any manuscripts that could possibly be considered Icelandic. “First of all, there’s the new University building for Icelandic studies, which means there’s improved conditions to preserve the fragile manuscripts. Secondly, budget cuts in Copenhagen have resulted in the cancellation of teaching positions in Icelandic and the humanities in general at Danish universities, a worrying trend. Third, it has been pointed out that these developments reflect a dwindling emphasis on Nordic scholarship in Denmark. Whether these are temporary circumstances or not remains to be seen. These arguments are keeping this issue alive, but it is uncertain how bringing these manuscripts to Iceland promotes international studies of old Icelandic and old Norse scholarship, for example in Denmark. Could retrieving the manuscripts hasten the development that’s already started and that we’re trying to avoid?” Says Viðar.

The Manuscript issue is sensitive by nature

In the eighteenth century, Icelandic-born archivist Árni Magnússon donated his massive collection of Icelandic manuscripts to the University of Denmark, which was considered to be a safe choice given the rudimentary nature of scholarship and conservation of artefacts and manuscripts in particular in Iceland at the time. Negotiations between Iceland and Denmark in the 1960s resulted with the Danes handing over some of the manuscripts to Iceland, the first ones delivered at a solemn ceremony in 1971. Dr Viðar emphasized that the manuscript issue is sensitive by nature. There are, it must be realized, some possible disadvantages in getting the manuscripts to Iceland.

“From a purely academic point of view, if the manuscripts go home to Iceland, I do not know in what way, if any, it would strengthen scholarship there. They are already very accessible to scholars. They are well looked after, and the University of Copenhagen is a world-class research centre in these studies. Also, in Copenhagen, there has been a long-term scientific work in the field of Ancient Icelandic and Old Norse studies. This is a very powerful and valuable job and it is a question of whether we are jeopardizing it all by raising this issue,” Dr Viðar says.

“The manuscript issue was always inherently very sensitive. In fact, a very successful outcome was reached in that matter at the time that was amenable to all involved parties. Then, however, there is a question of whether in the long-term manuscript studies in Copenhagen is losing its heft. I don’t think we need to panic or rush to conclusions. We can only keep track of how matters develop.”