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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Skálholt church and Episcopal see

Updated: Apr 29


South Region Iceland
South Region Iceland

Skálholt, the former Episcopal see and farm in the Southern Region of Iceland is one of the most important historical places in the country. For ages, Iceland was a rural agricultural society with almost no form of a noteworthy urban area. The Church was a powerful social and economic institution in addition to its central spiritual and religious role. Accordingly, Skálholt became an administrative center and played the role of the capital of Iceland for centuries. It was a center of religion, learning, culture, and, in many aspects, leadership and decision-making. Today Skálholt is primarily a farm and a historical place worth visiting. The Church was designed by Hörður Bjarnason, who was the "state's housemaster" at the time, and it was consecrated in 1963. Altogether ten churches have stood at this place since the 10th century, and many ended in flames as they burned down.

Skálholt is a place of many historical events

Icelanders have twice changed their official religion, and both times relatively peacefully. First, around the year 1000 when Christianity became our official religion, and paganism was abolished. When the head of our new Church, Bishop Ísleifur Gissurarson, decided to build the Episcopal see, his choice was Skálholt. The location was central at the time, near Þingvellir, where Alþingi was held, with a vast and magnificent view that suited the new Church. From that time, Skálholt became an important place in Iceland for centuries. Then, again in the 16th century, Icelanders took another drastic decision regarding religion and their religious life and converted to Lutheranism. At that time, there were two bishops, one in Skálhot and one in the north at Hólar. To make a long story short, the Catholic bishop at Hólar was apprehended and transported to Skálholt, where he was beheaded. It was a symbolic act that finalized the transformation and created a new religious consensus, Lutheranism. As a center of substantial political power and owner of many farms around the county, the Church had a meaningful role, as did Skálholt.

Natural forces and an inch of urban development forced the church to move

Today Skálholt is a religious and cultural center, a museum, and a farm. It is an interesting place to visit for people curious about history, especially religious history. In the early 18th century, Iceland had developed a step from being an entirely urban and agricultural society with a small administrative village in Reykjavík. However, due to consistent natural disasters from volcanos and earthquakes, it was decided to move the Church headquarters to Reykjavík. As Skálholt is not far from the popular tourist attractions Gullfoss and Geysir, it is worth it to visit Skálholt when driving around the southeast part of Þingvellir and Almannagjá.


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