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MAIN Arrow to TravelTravel Arrow to Tourist AttractionsTourist Attractions Arrow to Iceland Travel InformationIceland Arrow to Iceland's Skalholt ChurchSkalholt Church

Skalholt Church IcelandOur Golden Circle Tour included a stop at Skálholt (Scaldholz) Church. The church is not always part of the tour since days can be very short, but our late Spring dates meant longer hours of daylight and the treat of a quick stop at Skalholt.

The buildings that once clustered around the hub of the Cathedral are gone. Signs outside show the history that is hidden from the modern visitor. Busy fields being farmed to feed the monastic community, skilled craftsmen working at the forge and a village growing around the solid anchor of the church. All just faint memories. The old seat of learning fittingly being researched by modern scholars trying to find the true version of the commmunity as it was then.

Compared to the major Cathedrals of the world, this building is not spectacular. Yet, once you step inside you feel the weight of history in the setting.

The sun streams a mosaic of colors across the floor and the simple lines of the walls and furnishings underscore the presence of natural divinity. As you inhale the serenity that fills the space you wonder how anyone can give a sermon here that makes more of an impression than the pure silence.

This was not always the case. This Cathedral, like many in Europe, holds the secrets of a tumultuous past.

Skalholt through the centuries

The Parliament of Iceland declared the Catholic religion as the national faith in 1000 AD. Through the Middle Ages, Skálholt was the Cathedral, the official church of the Bishop.

The site also housed the bishop's residenvce and a monastery where young men could train for the priesthood. The monks who studied here, as in most of Northern Europe, spent their time farming and taking care of the land as well as learning scriptures and devoting themselves to prayer.

Iceland is splitting along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
The stained glass windows by
Gerður Helgadóttir's were a gift
from the Danish people.

Housing for monks, teachers, servants and the towns people added up to quite a large number of buildings. Adam of Bremen described Skálholt (Scaldholz) as the "largest city" in Iceland after his visit in 1075.

When the Reformation and Lutheranism swept in, Iceland was far enough removed to avoid the excesses of the time, but did not escape entirely.

While Iceland was spared most of the bloodshed that nearby island nations and most of Western Europe endured during the Reformation, there were some ripples of turmoil that made it to the shores.

The end of Catholicism in Iceland came in 1550 when the last Catholic bishop, Jón Arason of Hólar, was executed in Skálholt along with his two youngest sons. Apparently the Danish king, Christian III ordered Iceland to change to Lutheranism and the bishop refused. The King ordered the execution with no due process which did not sit well with the independent Icelanders in the North.

One odd fact that the guide shared with us was that while Bishop Jón Arason was not married, he did have a mistress, Helga Sigurđardóttir. They had four sons, Magnús, Sigurđur, Björn and Ari and two daughters Helga and Ţórunn. Icelanders claim that everyone in Iceland, within 10 or 15 generations has a direct ancestral link to Jón Arason!

Embracing the new - revering the old

From the early days of settlement in Iceland through the next eight centuries, Skálholt has held its place as one of the most important locations in Iceland. Not just a center for religion, the area was a cultural and political center. Skálholtsskóliwas, Iceland's first official school, was founded at Skálholt in 1056. The Reykjavík Gymnasium, MR continues that tradition today. The seminary in Skálholt was re-instituted under the old name in 1992. Skálholt remains the education and information center of The Church of Iceland.

The cathedral has been rebuilt many times, with the latest version beginning construction in 1956 and finishing on time in 1963 as a part of the millennial celebrations of the episcopal see.

Viking Explorers in the New World

Visitors from the North American continent owe a special debt to the scholars at old Skalholt. The Skalholt Map was drawn in 1570 by Sigurd Stefánsson, a teacher in Skálholt.

Based on the old Norse tales of visits to lands in the West, the map shows Promontorium Winlandiae (Promontory of Vinland) as the site of a short lived Viking settlement in the unexplored regions to the west.

Modern archeologists used the map to locate the dig at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, which in 1960 yielded the first archaeological evidence of Viking presence in America.

More about Skalholt Church around the Web:

Iceland's Skalholt Church Wikipedia

Skálholt Official Site

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