Iceland: Incredibly Scenic Churches

Hofskirkja in Fairy Tale-like Setting (1 of 6 historic turf churches remaining in Iceland)

Magical Hofskirkja in Back

Hofskirkja in Front

Hofskirkja Burial Mounds

Hofskirkja Cross

Vik i Myrdal (Vikurkirkja or Vik Church) and Purple Lupines in June

Colorful Hvalneskirkja (Stone Church)

Olafsvikurkirkja (Olafsvik Church Hofsos) Shaped Like a Ship near a Fishing Village

Olafsvikurkirkja Bell Tower (triangle theme reflects holy trinity)

Budakirkja (Budir Black Church) by Volcanic Cinder Cone

Ingjadlsholskirkja (Independent Church) at End of Lonely Country Lane

The churches in Iceland are incredibly scenic and beautiful.  They often sit on a hill overlooking the ocean.  You can feel the history of the place as you stand in some of these remote locations.  “Kirkja” means church in Icelandic.  An excellent article about Icelandic churches is at:  https://guidetoiceland.is/best-of-iceland/churches-in-iceland  Previous blog posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Iceland: Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain Water Flow to Sea

Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain Water Flow to Sea

Close-up of Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Waterfalls

Close-up of Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain and Waterfalls

View from Kirkjufell toward Waterfalls

View from Kirkjufell toward Waterfalls

Close-up of Waterfalls

Close-up of Waterfalls

Kirkjufell and Field of Buttercups along the Sea

Kirkjufell and Field of Buttercups along the Sea

Geological Diagram of Kirkjufell

Geological Diagram of Kirkjufell

Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Budakirkja (Church at Budir)

Trail from Budakirkja to Coast

Trail from Budakirkja to Coast

Trail from Budakirkja Leads to Volcanic Caldera Nearby

Trail from Budakirkja Leads to Volcanic Caldera Nearby

On the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is famous Kirkjufell “Church” Mountain – the most photographed mountain in Iceland!  The mountain’s peak rises up like a steeple.  A diagram of its geological sediments looks like a layer cake.  The lowest part of the mountain contains 1 million-year-old ice age fossils.  This area is especially scenic with its mountain, fjord, and waterfalls. 

An actual church of historic interest is Budakirkja on the south side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  This painted black church in the wild lava landscape was built in 1848. 

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches on Reykjanes Peninsula

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Kalfatjarnarkirkja is Iceland’s largest rural church (built 1891)

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Cherub covered with orange lichens in Kalfatjarnarkirkja cemetery

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Utskalakirkja sits by the sea (built 1863)

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Colorful painted design on traditional house beside Utskalakirkja

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Hvalneskirkja was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside)

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Entrance to Hvalneskirkja cemetery

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Kirkjuvogskirkja is one of three Icelandic churches painted black (built 1860)

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

Anchor from shipwrecked American schooner Jamestown beside Kirkjuvogskirkja

There are several historic churches you can visit on the scenic Reykjanes Peninsula (home of Keflavik International Airport and the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland).  Each church is unique and has a beautiful simplicity and history of its own.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   

Kalfatjarnarkirkja Church is Iceland’s largest rural church and is picture-postcard perfect.  Utskalakirkja Church sits by the sea and is near the twin Gardskagaviti lighthouses.  Many shipwrecks occurred in the area, so its cemetery contains gravestones dedicated to mariners and fishermen.  Earthen walls marked property boundaries there in the past, so the town’s name is Gardur (which means garden or earth). Beautiful Hvalneskirkja Church was built with locally collected lava rock (outside) and salvaged driftwood (inside).  It sits near the bright orange Stafnes Lighthouse.   Kirkjuvogskirkja Church is one of three Icelandic churches painted black.  Next to it is an anchor from an 1881 shipwreck of the American schooner Jamestown.  The wood and cargo of lumber salvaged from the abandoned “ghost ship” were of great value to this treeless community.  An interesting article about the fate of the ship is at: http://www.leoemm.com/jamestown_english.htm.  More info about the interesting sights that can be seen on a day trip from Reykjavik to the Reykjanes Peninsula is at:  http://www.visitreykjanes.is.   All of our posts about Icelandic churches are at:  https://naturetime.wordpress.com/?s=iceland+church

Iceland: Famous Hallgrimskirkja Church

Entrance to Hallgrimskirkja Church

Entrance to Hallgrimskirkja Church

Statue of Leif Eriksson in Front of Hallgrimskirkja Tower

Statue of Leif Eriksson in Front of Hallgrimskirkja Tower

Pipe Organ with 5,275 Pipes

Pipe Organ with 5,275 Pipes

Candelabra Inside Church

Candelabra Inside Church

Icelandic Pancakes Nearby

Icelandic Pancakes Nearby

A prominent feature of Reykjavik’s skyline is Hallgrimskirkja Church.  It is the largest church in Iceland and contains a pipe organ with 5,275 pipes.  The outside of the building is fortified with cement to withstand the fierce storms of winter.  Its design reflects the volcanic basalt columns found in nature.  In front of the church stands a statue of Leif Eriksson – Viking hero and first European to visit America.  The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930 to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament (Althing).  The inside of the church has soaring columns that beautifully enhance the sound of a choir singing.  More info about Hallgrimskirkja is at:  en.hallgrimskirkja.is

Before an afternoon concert there we enjoyed fluffy Icelandic pancakes at Café Loki across the street.  The pancakes are similar to a crepe filled with light-as-air whipped cream.  The hot chocolate has whipped cream so buttery thick that it barely melts!  Mmmmmm. 

Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church) Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church) Wooden Pipe Organ

Glaumbaejarkirkja Wooden Pipe Organ

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Wheel Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Wheel Memorial

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Every town in Iceland, no matter how small or isolated, seems to have its own historic church. Usually it is perched high on a hill or overlooking the water. We loved the attention to detail and beauty of these unique churches. Some of the buildings are made of concrete or colorful corrugated iron to withstand the harsh weather and winter wind; others are made of stone or turf (sod).  Christianity was adopted in this country around 1000 AD, and 80% of the population is Lutheran. That said, Icelanders are free thinking and embrace people of all faiths.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   Click on any of these pictures to bring up further details and traveling advice.

Iceland: Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs and Dramatic Lava

Mountainous Landscape

Mountainous Landscape

Pebbly Beach with Whale Bone and Driftwood

Pebbly Beach with Whale Bone and Driftwood

Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs on Old Volcano

Arnarstapi Bird Cliffs on Old Volcano

Kittiwakes with Newly Hatched Chick

Kittiwakes with Newly Hatched Chick

Cliff Walk over Lava Cave

Cliff Walk over Lava Cave

Columnar Lava at Ocean's Edge

Columnar Lava at Ocean’s Edge

Seaweed Covered Rocks at Low Tide

Seaweed Covered Rocks at Low Tide

Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell

Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell

Mount Stapefell ("Home of Elves")

Mount Stapefell (“Home of Elves”)

Beautiful Home by Harbor with Snaefellsjokull Glacier in Background

Beautiful Home by Harbor with Snaefellsjokull Glacier in Background

Arnarstapi Harbor

Arnarstapi Harbor

Birds Nesting on Rock Offshore

Birds Nesting on Rock Offshore

Cafe with Turf Roof

Cafe with Turf Roof

Path through Lava to Djupalonssandur Beach

Path through Lava to Djupalonssandur Beach

Siberian Driftwood Log on Beach

Siberian Driftwood Log on Beach

Heavy Lifting Stones to Determine Strength

Heavy Lifting Stones to Determine Strength

Lifting Stones Descriptive Sign

Lifting Stones Descriptive Sign

"Elf Church" Rock Formation Nearby

“Elf Church” Rock Formation Nearby

Longrangar Lighthouse on Coast

Longrangar Lighthouse on Coast

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula northwest of Reykjavik is one of our favorite places in Iceland.  The landscape is spectacular!  Gorgeous mountains and glaciers sit next to beaches where we saw driftwood, polished stones, and even old whale bones washed ashore.  In June the Arnarstapi bird cliffs have an amazing amount of nesting activity and cacophony of sound (turn up the volume and listen to video below).  Lava flows in some places there are condensed into dramatic pillars and columns.  Nearby stands a statue of stone that commemorates the Guardian Spirit of Mount Snaefell.  The town sits at the base of Mount Stapefell (known as the “Home of Elves”, composed of pillow lava and green olivine) and in the shadow of Snaefellsjokull Glacier.  The Arnarstapi harbor is particularly scenic, and the town café serves the best hot chocolate!

A bit further west is Djupalonssandur Beach, which is famous for its protected black pebbles and remains of a British trawler shipwrecked there in 1948.  Iceland has very few trees, so driftwood there floats all the way from Siberia!  Four large stones on the beach were used in the past to test the strength of fishermen.  If you couldn’t pick up the largest stone, you weren’t allowed on the boat!  Just picking up the smallest stone is quite an effort for the average person.  Nearby are Longrangar Lighthouse and a lava rock formation known as the “Elf Church”. 

Iceland: “Pompeii of the North” Museum

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Ferry Approach to Island of Heimaey

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Cliffs at Entrance to Harbor

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Wall Mural Near Ferry Terminal

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum ("Pompeii of the North")

Ash-Filled House on Display at Eldheimar Museum (“Pompeii of the North”)

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Fissure of Fire By Town

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

1973 Photograph of Church and Erupting Volcano

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Nature Display at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Mineral Chalcedony at Saeheimar Aquarium

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Permanent Resident Toti, Rescued Puffin at Saeheimar Aquarium (nonbreeding colors)

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Wild Puffin Landing at Cliffside Nesting Colony

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

Sheep Grazing in Volcanic Landscape

If you travel to Heimaey in the Westmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland, you can visit the Eldheimar Museum.  It is known as the “Pompeii of the North” because it displays houses that were buried by volcanic ash in 1973.  For months before the eruption began, a little girl told everyone in the village that she dreamed an eruption was coming.  Her mother told her that was ridiculous because the volcano had not erupted in over 5,000 years.  On January 23 at 2 am, though, her mother looked out the window and saw a fissure of fire on the ridge above the house.  The lava was coming!  Fortunately there had been poor weather earlier that day so all the fishing boats were in port. The people were quickly evacuated and the fight was on to save the town.  One man’s crazy idea to spray sea water on the advancing lava to divert its flow actually worked, and the harbor was saved. 

We enjoyed our visit to Heimaey and highly recommend the trip (30 minute ferries to the island are available in summer).  Highlights were the Eldheimar Museum (http://eldheimar.is/en/), a spectacular puffin colony (http://visitwestmanislands.com/page/birdwatching-in-vestmannaeyjar-iceland), and of course the island’s abundant natural beauty (http://www.visitvestmannaeyjar.is/).

UPDATE JUNE 2019:  A new outdoor beluga whale sanctuary and museum was constructed here in the Westman Islands.  The Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary is the first of its kind in the world!  Two beluga whales named Little White and Little Grey were rescued from a small concrete aquarium in Shanghai and arrived in Iceland on June 19, 2019:  https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2019/06/20/beluga_sisters_have_arrived/  They are adjusting well to their new home.  These “sea canaries” will live life in an open sea pen in the harbor, with access to an enclosed pool if weather conditions temporarily warrant it.  Their lives will be greatly improved under the best possible conditions, since they could never survive in the wild.  You can follow updates about them at:  https://belugasanctuary.sealifetrust.org/en/

Beluga whales are extremely intelligent, calm, inquisitive, and social animals.  Sea Life Trust boat tours will take visitors to see the bay where the belugas live, so we hope to see them next time we visit Iceland!

Iceland: Golden Circle Fun

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Blue Bubble of Strokkur Geyser Eruption

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Birthplace of Icelandic Parliament in 930 AD

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Outside of Historic Thingvellir Church

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Inside of Thingvellir Church (1683 Pulpit)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Silfra Fissure at Junction of Tectonic Plates (popular diving spot in crystal clear water)

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Close-up of Gullfoss Waterfall Gorge

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Trio of Beautiful Icelandic Horses

Although we toured Reykjavik’s Golden Circle when we visited Iceland previously in 2014, we decided to revisit the area again to see old favorites and things we missed the last time around.  First stop was the geyser Strokkur, which erupts about every 10 minutes.  Our slow-motion video below shows how it swells into a churning blue bubble before erupting skyward (the first few seconds are amazing!).  Rain or shine it never disappoints. 

We also stopped at Thingvellir National Park.  Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best place in the world to see the junction of tectonic plates.  This location is the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s oldest existing parliament where Icelanders first assembled in 930 AD. 

Within view is beautiful Thingvellir Church.  It was built in 1859 and its pulpit dates to 1683. 

A popular activity in the area is to dive in the Silfra fissure, which straddles the North American and Eurasian continents.  The water is pristine and exceptionally clear (https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/).

After walking the trail at spectacular Gulfoss waterfall, we stopped for a picnic lunch along the road.  A friendly herd of Icelandic horses kept us company in this scenic landscape.

Iceland: Charming Glaumbaer Sod Farmhouses/Folk Museum

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Glaumbaer Farm-Skagafjordur Folk Museum Complex, Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Herringbone-Patterned Turf

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside of Three Rooms in Sod Complex

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Outside Windows Surrounded by Grass

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Inside Window Looking Out (dandelions growing on roof)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Main Central Corridor (light beams come from glass skylights)

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Inside Closeup of Sod Walls

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Cookware on Stone Fireplace

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Painted Glassware (middle jug features a swallow)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Colorful Painted Chest (inscription says Year 1859)

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Beautiful Driftwood Bureau

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Teapot and Box (inscription says Anna 1796)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Traditional Icelandic Instrument called the “Langspil” (similar to a violin)

Sheep Horn Display

Sheep Horn Display

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

Historic Drawing of Glaumbaer Farm

The Glaumbaer Farm/Skagafjordur Folk Museum is located next to the Glaumbaerjarkirkja Church in Skagafjordur, Iceland. This charming sod farmhouse complex is preserved as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries. The houses are built from sod laid in herringbone patterns with a stone base, and reinforced inside by imported lumber or driftwood. The farm complex contains 13 buildings or “rooms” connected by a central corridor leading to sleeping and communal areas, dining room, kitchen, pantry, blacksmith shop, storerooms, and guest rooms. Turf was used as a building material because it was readily available, provided excellent insulation, and could easily last a century. Lumber was used sparingly because it had to be imported (Iceland has few trees).   Volcanic stone was not used because the cost of mortar was too high. The antique furniture and household goods are especially interesting. More info is at: http://www.glaumbaer.is/is/information/glaumbaer-farm/glaumbaer-english-1

 

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