Skálholt the old Episcopal see in Iceland

  • Skálholt, the former Episcopal see, and farm, in the Southern Region in Iceland
    Skálholt, the former Episcopal see, and farm, in the Southern Region in Iceland
Mar 12 2017

Skálholt, the former Episcopal see, and farm, in the Southern Region in Iceland is one of the most important historical places in the country.  For ages, the Iceland was a rural agricultural society with almost no form of a significant urban area.  The Church was a powerful institution both socially and economically in addition to its main spiritual and religious role. Accordingly, Skálholt became a center and played the role of a capital of Iceland for centuries. It was a center of religion, learning, culture and in many aspects, administration and decision making.  Today Skálholt is mostly a farm and a historical place and most definitely 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, the Bishop Ísleifur Gissurarson decided to build the Episcopal see his choice was Skálholt. A location quite central at the time, near Þingvellir and a place with a wide and magnificent view that suited the new church. From that time Skálholt became a major center for centuries. 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 as an owner of many farms around the county the church had a major role as did Skálholt.

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

Today Skálholt is a cultural center, a museum, and a farm. It is an interesting place to visit for people interested in 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.  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 around Þingvellir and Almannagjá.