The church of
Hallgrimur is the crown on Iceland's capital with its magnificent 73 m high
steeple rising above all other buildings in Reykjavik. It is the largest
church of the country with a seating capacity for 1200 people in the nave.
It was under construction longer than any other building in Iceland and has
at times generated considerable controversy. Ideally situated on the hill
Skolavorduholt, overlooking the centre of old Reykjavik, the site for
Hallgrims 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
The name of the Rev. Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-1674),
without a doubt Iceland's most beloved poet, was soon linked
to the plans for the proposed church. He influenced the
nation's spiritual development perhaps more than any other
person, and generation after generation of Icelanders have
read, memorized and quoted his best known work, Hymns of the
Passion. Iceland adopted Christianity in the year 1000 and
was a part of the Roman Catholic Church until the
Reformation in the 16th century, when the Icelandic church
became Lutheran. to this day about 95% of the Icelandic
population belongs to the Lutheran Church.
State Architect Gudjon
Samuelsson (1887-1950) was commissioned to design the Hallgrims church in
1937. He designed many buildings to be seen throughout the country. The most
famous are the main building of the university, the National Theatre, the
Roman Catholic Cathedral in Reykjavik and the Church of Akureyri. His goal
was to create a style of national architecture in the same manner as many of
his contemporaries in the other Nordic countries, using motifs and materials
from the Icelandic nature with basalt formations playing a prominent role.
The design of the Hallgrims Church, his final and greatest achievement, is
reminiscent of the rugged mountains and icecaps, which dominate Iceland's
landscapes. Inevitably the design engendered controversy, especially its
size and the towering steeple. Nonetheless a large number of people was
determined to see the project through and the design remained unchanged.
The Crypt under the Choir of
the church was consecrated as a chapel for the congregation in 1948. The steeple and both
wings were completed in 1974, providing the congregation with a better place for worship
and other facilities. The nave was consecrated in 1986 on the bicentennial of the city of
Reykjavik. 60% of the cost of construction has been raised by the congregation and private
donations from all over the country, even from abroad, but government and city
contributions have increased in latter years. In December 1992 a grand organ of 72 stops,
commissioned from Johannes Klais in Bonn, was inaugurated. The organ, by far the largest
in Iceland, has four manuals and pedals, 5.,275 pipes and mechanical tracture. It stands
15 meters high and weighs some 25 tons. Already it has been used frequently in concerts as
well as in religious services. In 1997 a new console for the big organ was installed in
the nave. The older and much smaller choir organ with 10 stops, built in 1985 by Th.
Frobenius & Sønner A.S. organ builders in Denmark, is in the nave and still in use.
The cost of installing the organ called for a major fund raising effort with
pipe sponsorship as the central feature of the campaign. If you would like
to sponsor a pipe, there is still time, just have a word with the church
warden. The amount you donate will be dictated by the size of the pipe. In
return you will receive a certificate. Another way of raising money is
through the sale of a CD of the inauguration concert and various Icelandic
organ works, played by Hordur Askelsson, the church organist. For this
purpose other CDs recorded here in the church are also for sale. While the
new organ was being installed, the opportunity was taken to put in place a
new seating arrangement in the nave, so that with the loose seating still
available, large numbers may attend major concerts held in the church from
time to time.
church has many other interesting features. The main door into the sanctuary was designed
and made by the artist Leifur Breidfjord, best known overseas for his stained glass
windows, including the Robert Burns memorial window in the St. Giles Church in Edinburgh.
Leifur Breidfjord was additionally responsible for the pulpit decorations, the costs of
which were met by donations on the occasion of the Bishop ermeritus, Dr. Sigurbjorn
Einarsson's 70th birthday celebrations in 1981. The pulpit, inaugurated on Whitsunday
1993, is decorated with symbolic representations of the Trinity and the Greek initials of
Christ (X and P) surrounded by Alpha and Omega. The verse on the canopy is from the 44th
Hymn of the Passion and the dow under the canopy represents the Holy Ghost, while the
colours green and lilac are respectively the colours of remorse and Lent.
Leifur Breidfjord is also responsible for the large, stained
window above the front entrance of the church. This
piece of art, which was added in 1999, is called "Glory -
Power - Respect".
The statue of Christ
is by the sculptor Einar Jonsson and was donated by him in 1948. The statue
depicts Christ at the moment the Spirit descends on him at his baptism. The
smaller statue, also by Einar Jonsson, is a memorial to the Rev. Hallgrimur
Petursson. A third sculpture, entitled Marurium, is by Sigurjon Olafsson.
The church also possesses a copy of the first Icelandic Bible,
Gudbrandsbiblia, printed at Holar in 1584. The baptismal font is only
provisional, but when a permanent one might take its place is not yet clear.
The bowl of the baptismal font is on loan from the National Museum of
Iceland and shows the Annunciation. Work on a permanent font is underway.
There are various exhibitions to be viewed in the foyer. A small chapel is
to be found in the north of the church. In the rooms and corridors of the
church, various pieces of art can be seen, i.e. water colours by the
Icelandic painter Karolina Larusdottir, a stained glass window by Gudmundur
Einarsson, a painting by the Danish artist Stefan Viggo Pedersen and the
Norwegian painter Bjorn Bjornebo.
The parish of the
Hallgrims church comprises about 6000 people. It is served by two ministers,
a deaconess, an organist, a children's choir director, church wardens and
youth workers. A group of volunteers take part on many levels of the
services and the cultural activities. The chaplains of the University
Hospital are affiliated to the church. There is a service of worship at
11,00 am every Sunday, a prayer service every Tuesday at 10,30 am and a
prayer service, organ playing and lunch every Thursday at 12,00 noon. During
Lent there is a service every Wednesday at 08,30 pm and prayers on other
weekdays at 06,00 pm. There exists a rich artistic and cultural life
at the Hallgrims church. The Motet Choirs is among the best choirs in
Iceland. it was founded by the church's organist and cantor in 1982 and
since then it has given numerous concerts and toured most countries of
Europe. CDs with music sung by the choir are on sale in the church. Members
of the choir lead the singing on Sundays. there is a very active children's
choir affiliated to the church and in 1996 the chamber choir Schola Cantorum
was founded. It has already received excellent critics for its singing.
The Society of the
Friends of the Hallgrims church supports concerts, art exhibitions and
dramatic events, which attract many people to the church every year. It has
organized four Festivals of the Sacred Arts around Whit sun. It also
arranges the „Summer Evening by the Organ" concert series in July and August
every year. In December 1996 the Art Collection of the Hallgrims church was
founded. It has the objective to keep and preserve the various items of art
owned by the church and to exhibit these and works of artists, who work with
sacred art Many non-cultural events and activities, such as meetings and
conferences, take place in the church the whole year round. The Icelandic
Bible Society, founded in 1815, has its headquarters in the church. Four AA
groups meet in the crypt every week. The steeple is
among the best known and most visible of Reykjavik's landmarks and provides
an unmistakable signpost for the city's visitors. The view of the capital
and its surroundings is superb from a platform 83 meters above sea level.
steeple is open to the public against a small charge
for those who use the elevator, which proceeds go towards the
maintenance of the church. There are three big bells in the
steeple and a carillon of 29
bells. The big bells carry the names Hallgrimur, Gudrun and Steinunn, named after the
Rev., his wife and a daughter, who died young. All the bells are gifts from individuals or
groups. They are inscribed with the names of their donors and the person in whose
memory the gifts are made. The carillon is the first in Iceland and the church is one of
only three churches in Reykjavik, which chime on the hour.
The beautiful nave is open
every day for anyone, who wishes to pray and meditate or simply seek solitude. Thus, the
Hallgrim's church is not only a monument to the memory of a great man, but also plays an
important role in the collective effort to satisfy the social as well as the spiritual
needs of the people of Reykjavik.