The churches in Iceland really standout even though many of them are very small. I think this is because there is very little around these churches – no other buildings or houses and the simple clean, colourful design of these churches contrasts dramatically with the bleak and wild open landscape of the surroundings.
The materials used for these churches can be very simple such as corrugated iron although some have stone or wood. However they are all painted immaculately and usually in bright bold colours. Likewise the interior design can be very brightly painted such as the wonderful interior of the Strandarkirkja.
Strandarkirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Selvogur, Iceland. It is often referred to as the ‘miracle church’ in Iceland, with the locals’ longstanding belief that it has profound, divine powers.
The Church was originally built sometime in the 12th century. The story relates that there is one night when a group of sailors tried to navigate back to Iceland in a storm. The southern coast of Iceland is notorious for its hidden reefs and rough coast. The distressed sailors prayed to God for a safe return and vowed to build a church wherever they landed. When they ended their prayer an angel, seemingly made of light, appeared before their bow. The angel guided them through the rough surfs and led the crew into a bay for safe landing. The sailors, making good on the promise, built a wooden church at the site and named it Strandarkirkja. The bay nearby is named Angel’s Bay (Engilsvík in Icelandic) to commemorate the incident. Many miracles have been attributed to Strandarkirkja and there was a time when it was one of the richest churches in Iceland from the donations of Icelanders coming from all over the country in hopes of having their prayers and wishes realized.
Strandarkirkja served as the parish church of the community of Selvogur. In the early days of Icelandic settlement the area had numerous substantial farms; the land was fertile and the sea good for fishing. The town is first mentioned in Sturlunga Saga, where Gissur Þorvaldsson allows Dufgusi Þorleifsson take up residence there in the summer of 1238.
A statue of Norwegian granite carved by the Icelandic sculptor Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir in 1950 called Landsýn, or ‘Land in Sight’, now stands by Strandarkirkja to commemorate the story of the church’s founding. Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir herself is buried in the Strandarkirkja cemetery.
Strandarkirkja still functions as a parish church, although only on occasion. There is no longer a regular service for the small populace of Selvogur. The church is open in summer, from mid-May to August, hosting biweekly services, and is also open on weekends in spring and autumn. In addition, masses are also held by the parish priest on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. A harvest sermon (Uppskerumessa) is held at the end of August by ancient tradition to celebrate the end of the harvest season. There is also a fisherman’s mass (Veiðimannamessa) in October that is open to all, but primarily caters to the hunters with their hunting cabin at the nearby Hlíðarvatn, a lake owned by the church.
Over the years, the town began to decline as wind and water erosion began to cause a collapse of the farming culture. The population has dwindled substantially as people started to move into cities, dropping to little more than 110 at the turn of the 20th Century and to 13 people in 2013. Selvogur now has only a couple of isolated farms and a popular free campground, as well as a café T-Bær for the travelers passing through. Around the church, many abandoned farmhouses and other ruins can be seen.
Víkurkirkja lies on a small hillock above the town of Vik, the most southerly village in Iceland, located on the main ring road around the island, around 180 km by road southeast of Reykjavík.
This church was designed by Gudjon Sameulsson, one of the first Icelandic architects and built by a local carpenter by the name of Matthias Einarsson.
Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. Katla has not erupted since 1918, and this longer than typical dormant period has led to speculation that an eruption may occur soon. An eruption of Katla could melt enough ice to trigger an enormous flash flood, potentially large enough to obliterate the entire town. The town’s church, located high on a hill, is believed to be the only building that would survive such a flood. Thus, the people of Vík practice periodic drills and are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.
A small gravel track from the church takes you up to a higher point on the hill where the small cemetery lies. From here you can get a wonderful panoramic view of the small town of Vik below, the black beach on the shorefront and the sea stacks in the distance.
Brunnhólskirkja lies in the small village of Brunnhóll which is 30km west of Höfn on the southeast coast of Iceland. This tiny church painted in bright white with red roof stands out from the surrounding countryside as you drive east towards Höfn.
Surrounding the church outside are a few graves, some just mounds of grass with small white crosses. With its bright colours of white and red this church is most photogenic against a sunny blue sky which I was lucky enough to have the day I visited.
Seyðisfjörður is a town and municipality in the Eastern Region of Iceland at the innermost point of the fjord of the same name.
A road over Fjarðarheiði mountain pass connects Seyðisfjörður to the rest of Iceland; 27 kilometres (17 miles) to the ring road and Egilsstaðir. Seyðisfjörður is surrounded by mountains on all sides with most prominent Mt. Bjólfur to the West (1085m) and Strandartindur (1010m) to the East. The fjord itself is accessible on each side from the town, by following the main road that leads through the town. Further out the fjord is fairly remote but rich with natural interests including puffin colonies and ruins of former activity such as nearby Vestdalseyri, from where the local church was transported.
Seydisfjordurkirkja is a well preserved wooden church built by Danish and Norwegian merchants in 17th century. The brightly coloured church is most distinctive and is often just referred to as the blue church.
In addition to being picturesque and charming, the church is also known for the Blue Church Summer Concert Series (started 1998), when the town’s folk organise a concert in the church every Wednesday evening from around July 1st – August 12th, all genres of music can be heard i.e. blues, folk, jazz and classical music, in a warm and relaxing atmosphere.
Þingeyrakirkja is the first stone built church in Iceland, located in Húnaþing between two waters Hóp and Húnavatn. The congressman Ásgeir Einarsson had the church built and it was consecrated in 1877. Þingeyrakirkja commands one of the widest and most beautiful panoramic views in the county. It is said that no estate was as big as or endowed with such elegant buildings as Þingeyrar, which is probably not surprising as it was home to chieftains and the elite for many centuries.Þingeyrar was also the site of the Iceland’s first monastery, founded in 1133.
Prior to this there was an old turf church the site. Ásgeir decided to build the church with stone, but suitable material was not available in the vicinity so in the winter 1864 – 1865 Ásgeir had stone moved from Nesbjörg to the church site. The stone was taken by sled over the ice-covered lake Hóp, an 8 km long journey. A Stonemason by the name of Sverrir Runólfsson built the church walls. Each stone in the walls was put in stowage or tied down and also glued with chalk, therefore the stones have not moved to this day. Ásgeir and Sverrir arranged most of the plans for the church and its building took 13 years. On The 9th of September 1877 the Reverend Eiríkur Briem from Steinnes consecrated the church. Objects from the old church were moved to the new one.
The church has many valuable objects. The oldest of these is an altarpiece made of alabaster probably from the 13th century. The pulpit is probably of Dutch origin and from the year 1696. The pulpit was a gift from Lárus Gottrúp lawyer, who resided at Þingeyrar monastery from 1683 – 1721. He also gave a bounteous silver baptismal font with the date 1663 and the date 1697. The church also owns a silver chalice and an alter linen with the date 1763.
Búðirkirkja is a unique church in Iceland being a distinctive black colour. The Buðir black church is one of 3 black churches in Iceland. They are black because the exterior wood is painted with pitch, just like the hull of a boat. This is to protect it from the harsh Icelandic elements. This works fairly well and buildings treated in this way have survived over 100 years.
Búðir (also named Búdir) is a small hamlet in Búðahraun lava fields in Staðarsveit, which is in the western region of Iceland, on the westernmost tip of the Snaefellsnes peninsula where Hraunhafnará falls to the sea, the original old name of Búðir having been Hraunhöfn. The village belongs to Snæfellsbær, a municipality that has its administrative centre in the town of Ólafsvík.
Þingvellir anglicised as Thingvellir (or, mistakenly, Pingvellir), is a place in the administrative district of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, near the Reykjanes peninsula and the Hengill volcanic area. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is at the northern end of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Alþingi (“Althing” in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park) was founded in 1930, marking the 1,000th anniversary of the Althing. It was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and became a World Heritage Site in 2004.
There has been a church at the site of Þingvellir since the introduction of Christianity but the church that stands there now was built in 1859. The first church at Þingvellir was built on the initiative of St. Olaf, King of Norway, who sent church timbers and a bell to Iceland shortly after the adoption of Christianity around AD 1000. The present Þingvellir Church was consecrated in 1859. The tower was rebuilt in 1907. Behind Þingvellir Church is the National Cemetery, which dates from 1939. Poets Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-45) and Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940) are buried there.
Hallgrímskirkja, (church of Hallgrímur) is a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. At 73 metres (244 ft), it is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland after Longwave radio mast Hellissandur, the radio masts of the US Navy at Grindavík, Eiðar longwave transmitter and Smáratorg tower.The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 to 1674), author of the Passion Hymns. The distinctive shape of the church dominates the landscape in the city and has been likened to the space shuttle.
State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson’s design of the church was commissioned in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It took 41 years to build the church. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986, the landmark tower being completed long before the church’s actual completion. The crypt beneath the choir was consecrated in 1948, the steeple and wings were completed in 1974, and the nave was consecrated in 1986. Situated in the centre of Reykjavík, it is one of the city’s best-known landmarks and is visible throughout the city. It is 1,676 square metres. It is similar in style to the expressionist architecture of Grundtvig’s Church of Copenhagen, Denmark, completed in 1940.
The church houses a large pipe organ by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. It has electronic action, the Pipes being remote from the four manuals and pedal console. There are 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5275 pipes. It is 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tons. Its construction was finished in December 1992. It has been recorded by Christopher Herrick in his Organ Fireworks VII CD and by Mattias Wager on his CD Live at Vatnajökull.
The church is also used as an observation tower. An observer can take a lift up to the viewing deck and view Reykjavík and the surrounding mountains. The statue of explorer Leif Eriksson (c. 970 – c. 1020) by Alexander Stirling Calder in front of the church predates its construction. It was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD.
In 2008, the church underwent a major restoration of the main tower, and was covered in scaffolding. In late 2009, restoration was completed and the scaffolding was removed.
The tower of the church is among the city’s highest buildings and offers a fantastic view of the city for the small price of 700ISK for adults, 100ISK for children.
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