The Church of Hallgrímur
A national monument dedicated to the most renowned sacred poet of Iceland, Hallgrímur Pétursson, this Lutheran Church can be seen from almost every part of Reykjavík. The Church was commissioned in 1937 and was built over the course of just over forty years: 1945-1986; it was under construction longer than any other building in Iceland and has at times generated considerable controversy.
The church is the crown on Iceland’s capital with its magnificent 73-meter high steeple rising above all other buildings in Reykjavík. It is the largest church in the country with a seating capacity of 1200 people in its nave. Ideally situated on the hill Skolavorduholt, overlooking the center of old Reykjavik, the site for Hallgrim’s church was in fact set aside early this century for the purpose of building just such a large church to serve the eastern part of the rapidly growing town.
I have never come across a photo album from tourists that have visited Reykjavík without a photograph of either Hallgrímskirkja or the view from the top. It is THE place to take landscape shots. You can take an elevator to the top of the tower and it costs 500 ISK per person, which, quite frankly, is amazingly cheap for such a view!
Yet, if you are too lazy to take the elevator, this monument is the subject of practically every postcard of Reykjavík.
There is a statue of Leif Eriksson (970-1020 AD) located just outside of the Church, which was a gift from the United States of America. The statue was designed by Alexander Calder and presented to Iceland in 1930. It remains a beacon of international relations, especially between the USA and Iceland, to this day.
From mid-June to mid-August, hear choir concerts (admission 2000 IKR) at noon on Wednesday, and organ recitals at noon on Saturday and some Thursdays (admission 1700 IKR), and on Sunday at 5 PM (admission 2500 IKR). Services are held Sunday at 11 AM, with a small service Wednesday at 8 AM. There is an English service the last Sunday of the month at 2 PM.
In an ever-changing world, this Church seems like the last vestiges of Icelandic culture. As Reykjavík loses its uniqueness – as all cities eventually do after an onslaught of tourism and outside influence – this commanding force of a sculpture demands attention.
Upon first entering, I was breathless. The sleek buttresses and exaggerated simplicity of this building are unparalleled, which reminded me of what the inside of a glacier must look like. The color schemes and aesthetics are echoed throughout both the natural and man-made landscape of the country.
I would suggest leaving about two hours to fully take in this beautiful area. A trip to Iceland without stopping here would be a trip wasted!
Another large church in Reykjavík is Landakotskirkja. It is also known as The Cathedral of Christ the King and is the Cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.
Built in Neo-Gothic style, it is magnificent both outside and inside. Regardless of religious views, the structure and its history are intriguing, making it the other most visited church in Reykjavík.
As a Catholic, this was a particular point of interest and a priority stop. Masses are in Icelandic, Polish and one is in English.
After the First World War, Icelandic Catholics saw the need to build a bigger church for the growing number of Catholics. They decided to build this Neo-Gothic church and entrusted the task to the architect Guðjón Samúelsson. After years of construction, Landakotskirkja was finally sanctified on the 23 of July 1929. At the time, it was the largest church in Iceland. it like a tower built for some kind of medieval European fortress! But there is an interesting story here. The tower was supposed to be a much higher spire in the beginning. This was changed well after construction began in 1927 due to lack of funds.
There was no official Catholic presence in Iceland from the Reformation to the 19th century. In fact, the last Catholic Bishop, Jón Arason, was beheaded in 1550 and was not replaced until the early 1800’s! For my fellow history buffs who want to learn more: the National Museum of Iceland has a great permanent display on the history of Iceland, including the Reformation era.
I highly recommend stepping inside if you are visiting the city.