It seems that any city, town or village you visit in Europe, whether great or small, has a church within its limits that you “just have to see.” In my travels, I’ve seen a lot of them in a lot of places, and I’ve always been generally disappointed by what I’ve found. Talked up to be “grand cathedrals” “like nothing you’ve ever seen,” they begin to blur together after you see enough of them.
Their insides are more often than not constantly under construction or filled with tourists who, for the life of them, cannot figure out how to take a decent picture of the stained glass windows they’re pouring over. There’s the guy sitting in the pew in the last row, not because he’s religious, but because he feels like he has to”¦ just for a minute. There’s the family of small children who have blown out all of the candles on the big table in the back, effectively silencing the prayers of the people who call these churches home. Yes, European churches can be tiring places to visit. Iceland, however, is different.
The Hallgràmskirkja, the main church in Reykjavik, is not suprisingly one of the main attractions in the small city. Unlike other similarly iconic structures, however, it doesn’t take a single page from the book of European church building. Effectively encapsulating the rugged nature and mood of the country, it fits in very well with the young Nordic-inspired town. It’s also unique because it’s pretty much the only church in the country bigger than a one room schoolhouse.
After building the church in Reykjavik, the people of Iceland must have decided to make the future of church building a relatively painless and simple task, as literally every other church in Iceland is shaped exactly the same. Whether all other church blue prints were stolen and burned by angry western European conquerors or the people of Iceland were just not bothered enough to build a different kind of church is beyond me. However, each church still manages to do a great job of being very unique. While the framework of these churches might be the same, everything else is markedly different.
The churches of Iceland are consistently built on the tops of hills, assuring that any volcanic destruction that befalls the island will merely kill every citizen on the island, leaving the church unharmed for future settlers. The church above lies at the highest point of the town of Vik, a small village on the south coast known for its incredibly breathtaking black sand beaches (more on those another day).
Other churches mark important historical sites. This one above lies in àÆ’à… ¾ingvellir, or “thing fields” in the only valley on earth above sea level created by the spreading apart of tectonic plates. It’s also the site of the very first parliament in the history of the world.
Still, other churches manage to capture the young, artistic side of Iceland. Trapped on an island in the middle of the Atlantic with no darkness in the summer and no light in the winter, it seems the youth of Iceland have nothing else to do but create, and they do it better than anyone. It also seems that the churches lend a great deal of their success to the amazing landscapes of the country.
Churches like these seem to outnumber any other building in the country. Most large farms have built one on their property so their residents don’t have to travel miles and miles on gravel-laden, curvy roads every Sunday to worship.
When you’re in Iceland (because you’ve all no doubt bought a ticket by now), don’t overlook these small churches that are often too easy to ignore. Park the car and go explore them. Though shaped the same, each is extremely unique and effects the mood of the particular part of the country you’re in. They’re also pretty photogenic, and will surely end up decorating the walls of your mother’s living room for decades to come. Thanks, mom.