Grafarkirkja Turf Church | The Oldest Church in Iceland


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Grafarkirkja turf church has earned a high reputation, being the oldest turf church in the country. Several parts of the present turf church date back to the 17th century. Only a few of these historical sites remain in Iceland but they are treasured by the locals and the visitors. Based in North-Iceland, Grafarkirkja is the Chapel at Gröf in Höfðaströnd.

Interestingly, the Sturlunga Saga has the record of the oldest account on Grafarkirkja, which is from around 1240. Sturlunga Saga is a collection of Icelandic Sagas from the 12th and 13th centuries. Standing amidst the beautiful locales, Grafarkirkja offers relaxing and satisfying views. Interestingly, it is the only church in Iceland with a circular turf-wall. Along with the church, the turf wall also surrounds the graveyard. The church is now closed to the public for preservation purposes.

Grafarkirkja turf church in Iceland

Admiring the Locales of Grafarkirkja

During ancient times, the Icelandic citizens used to reside in turf houses, and the churches were made of turf. These historic structures add to the beauty of Iceland, making people conscious and increasingly aware of the country’s rich history. It is believed that most of the ancient churches in Iceland looked similar to the Grafarkirkja turf church.

A weather-vane on top of the church is imprinted with the letters 167_. The last numerical letter is missing. This is the joy of visiting historic places such as Grafarkirkja. They reveal so much about the begone culture and people but at the same time, there are elements of mystery. The significant and tiny church was deconsecrated in 1775. It is unfortunate to know that this happened by a royal order from the ruling authority. After deconsecration, farmers and other locals used it as a storeroom at Gröf. After almost 200 years Grafarkirkja was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Iceland in 1953. It was being completely remade in its original form by Þjóðminjasafn Íslands – the National Museum of Iceland. Repairs were again carried out in 2011.

Locals believe that Gísli Þorláksson, the Bishop of Hólar, was the major figure responsible for the establishment of the church. The sources present are not sufficient to confirm this. Perhaps this belief is based on the fact that Gísli was the legal owner of the land Gröf in the late 17th century. It is highly possible that Grafarkirkja was constructed by Guðmundur Guðmundsson from Bjarnastaðahlíð. Guðmundsson was one of the most popular wood-workers in the 17th century in Iceland. This is speculated because of the wooden roof trims on the church. The details of beautiful baroque style carvings can stun you.

Grafarkirkja turf church in Iceland

Inside Grafarkirkja Turf Church

There remain only six turf-churches in Iceland and Grafarkirkja is one of them. This turf church looks the oldest among all. The timber and turf structure is the only stave church in the country. The altarpiece inside the church is a reprint of the old baroque style altarpiece from the late seventeenth century. The Crucifixion and the Last Supper are portrayed on the central panel and the Apostles Andrew and Thomas are illustrated on the side panels. The old baroque style altar has been replaced. The wooden structure is beautiful from the inside.

Grafarkirkja turf church belongs to the National Museum of Iceland’s significant Historic Building Collection. It has been a part of the museum since 1939. The surrounding landscape makes the historic gem even more beautiful. Majestic mountain ranges in the backdrop have amazing energy. This is an ideal place to take your mind off of all tensions and spend a day relaxing under the sun.

Grafarkirkja turf church in Iceland

Get to the Turf Church

Grafarkirkja church is located by road 76, about 4 kilometers south of the village of Hofsós in North-Iceland. To visit North-Iceland, you can rent a car in Reykjavík or at the International Airport and drive up north.

A trail leads to the church and it takes 5 minutes from the parking lot to reach the church. Please stay on the outskirts of the church property when visiting and capturing it. Refrain from walking on any graves or climbing on the church or turf walls.

Grafarkirkja turf church in Iceland

Grafarkirkja Turf Church on a map

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