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Iceland’s most well-known church is probably the towering Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. However, it does not represent the architecture of most churches around the country. The earliest churches, which can be found in the countryside, are simply structured and made out of turf.
Travel to Iceland’s south coast, and you will find Heimaey, Westman archipelago’s largest island. There you will also find this traditional Norwegian-style stave church, which was a gift from Norway and was received in 2000 to commemorate the 1,000-year-anniversary of Christianity being adopted in Iceland. This style of the church is typical of the Viking era and inside you will find a replica of a medieval altarpiece.
The current wooden church building dates to 1859 with a painted altarpiece from 1834 and a wooden interior in the typically modest style of the times. However, there are resources that record the existence of a church at Þingvellir that was erected shortly after the year 1000 when Icelanders converted to Christianity. In fact, it has been documented that the then-king of Norway shipped Norwegian wood and a church bell to Iceland for a church to be built at Þingvellir in 1015.
This former church is now Iceland’s smallest library. The small wooden building built in 1926 is well-known as it used to house the Flateyjarbók, the largest medieval Icelandic manuscript. Made out of vellum, or calfskin, the manuscript was written around 1390 and includes many important sagas. As the island was once home to a large monastery, it has been presumed that the manuscript was written by priests.
Located next to an incredible beach on the south coast of Snæfelsnes, this church is frequently photographed and is a popular wedding location due to its minimal exterior painted completely black, which creates a sharp contrast to the mountains in the distance.
The church was built close to ancient church foundations, which are thought to be the oldest in the country. A Benedictine convent was founded in the town of Kirkjubaer, which means ‘Church Village’, in 1186 but was abolished in the mid-16th century. The Reverend Jon Steingrimsson is buried in the local cemetery with a prominent gravestone. It is said that during the Laki volcanic eruption in 1783, he gave a sermon that stopped the lava from overrunning the village.