Skálholt Cathedral, South Iceland
Skálholt has been the spiritual center of Iceland since the ordination of the first Catholic bishop, Isleifur Gissurarson,in 1056 and through the advent of Lutheranism in the 16th century. The Catholic bishop from North Iceland, Jon Aráson, was captured and beheaded together with his two sons in 1550 effectively ending the Catholic faith in Iceland. The Lutherans maintained their Episcopal See at Skálholt until 1785. A major earthquake and volcanic eruptions toward the end of the century finally drove the bishop and school to Reykjavík where the See was installed in 1801. This led to the decline in importance of Skálholt as the religious, educational and cultural center of Iceland. Renewed interest in Skálholt in the 20th century saw the construction of a new cathedral on the ruins of previous churches. It was consecrated in 1963.
Excavations in the area have yielded artifacts including a stone sarcophagus and tombstones which are displayed in the church crypt.
Interior of the Cathedral
The altarpiece is a mosaic of Jesus and was created by local artist, Nina Tryggvadóttir. The stained glass windows were a gift by the Danes to the church and tells the story of salvation. It was made by another female artist, Gerdur Helgadóttir. The plain exterior walls of the Cathedral belies the beautiful interior space lit by a kaleidoscope of colors from the stained glass windows.
This interesting turf house, Þorláksbúð, was built in recent years on the ruins of the old chapel. It is in sharp contrast to the white washed Cathedral. The Unesco World Heritage Center refers to Iceland's turf structures as "vernacular architecture". Its origin may be traced to the Viking settlement in Iceland in the 9th century. There are many fine examples of these structures in Iceland today though these are mere reconstructions since turf has to be replaced every 20 to 30 years and together with the ravages of time, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, these turf dwellings would not have survived in its entirety to the present day. There is controversy over the placement of Þorláksbúð at Skálholt but in my opinion, the addition of this vernacular house focuses attention on an important cultural heritage. And that's a good thing!
The Golden Circle Tours offered by various sightseeing companies include a visit to Skálholt.
The Settlement Exhibition on Adalstraeti 16 in Reykjavík is a good place to learn more about life in the Viking Age and see firsthand the remains of a 10th century longhouse and other artefacts excavated on the site.
Images by TravelswithCharie