ancient sources mention hermits in Iceland before Christianity was
adopted and cloisters were established. One of the stories tells
us about Asolfur Konalsson from Ireland. He did not want company
with pagan people. Jorundur the Christian is also mentioned.
Mani the Christian is supposed to have built a church at Kolgumyrar in
the Hunavatn-county and served there 24 hours a day. Some female
hermits are mentioned: Gudrun Osvifursdottir (she was young when
Christianity was adopted; Laxdaela Saga), Hildur, who became a hermit
at the Holar Cathedral during the time of bishop Jon Ogmundsson, Groa
Gissurardottir (Gissur was the son of Isleifur Gissurarson, the
country's first bishop), who reclused herself when she grew old at
Skalholt, Ketilbjörg lived in recluse at Skalholt during bishop's Pall
Jonsson (†1202), and Katrin reclused herself at Munkathvera before the
convent at Reynisstadur, where she became the first abbess, was
Old sources imply that Hroflur (Rudolf) established a monestary at
Baer in Borgarfjordur close to the year 1030. He was called back
to England in 1049. There were more attempts at establishing
cloisters during the early years of the church. Bishop Magnus
Einarsson at Skalholt bought a part of the Westman Islands and
attempted the establishment of a monestary there. He was lost in
a fire in 1148 and nothing came off his ideas. Jon Loftsson at
Oddi built a monestary at Keldur around the year 1190, where he wanted
to spend his last years. It was probably abandoned after his
death in 1197.
In the 12th century the church was well established and seven
cloisters were founded. They were the offsprings of the great
increase in number of cloisters in Europe at the time, and the fact,
that many of the country's church leaders had been educated there.
Little was documented about everyday life in the monestaries and
convents. Therefore we have to rely on the archaeologists of the
future to cast some light on that. We tend to connect the
cloisters with culture and education, and last but not least, the
preservation of the old Saga manuscripts. Cloister cartularies
mention large libraries in some instances. The Thingeyrar
monestary seems to have been the most important one, when it comes to
literary production and the rewriting of the Saga literature.
Stories of kings and bishops were written before and after the turn of
the 12th century.
Historians are certain that the Saga of King Olafur Tryggvason was
written in Latin in 1190. The monk Gunnlaugur Leifsson also
wrote it a few years later and also bishop Jon Ogmundarsson's
biography. The 14th century canons were traced to the
Benedictine school in North Iceland, where the Thingeyrar and
Munkathvera monestaries educated their students. Abbot Bergur
Sokkason at Munkathvera most probably wrote the canons of Michel and
Nicolaus, and the so-called Laurentius Saga hints, that he was
responsible for most of the 14th century canons. He became prior
of the Munkathvera monestary in 1322 and abbot in 1325. Among
other esteemed writers of the period were Arni Laurentiusson, and
Arngrimur Brandsson, both monks at Thingeyrar. The prior of the
Videy monestary, Styrmir the learned, was an esteemed writer as well.
The monestary at Helgafell in the West was an important centre for
writing and education. The famous Skard's book, preserved in two
vellum manuscripts, most probably was written there. It
comprises the stories of the apostles.
Preserved cloister cartularies are the best sources of their economy.
Many business contracts have been preserved. Monestaries and
convents also were important establishments for the elderly, who could
afford to spend their last years in the care of the monks or the nuns.
Widows were the most common customers, but also the odd married
couple. Each instance required the permission of the bishop.
The reformation started in continental Europe in 1517, when Luther
nailed his protests on the castle church door in Wittenberg.
King Christian III started his rule in Denmark in 1536. One of
his first decrees was the reformation of the church in his kingdom
with himself as its highest authority. That way he managed to
acquire the wealth and property of the catholic church.
Gissur Einarsson, Iceland's first lutheran bishop, registered all the
ordained people of the monestaries and convents of the Skalholt see.
They did not turn out to be very many. King Christian's church
ruling arrived in Iceland in 1537. Bishop Gissur translated it
to Icelandic in 1541 and was accepted by a convocation the same year.
It offered monks and nuns to stay at the monestaries and convents for
the rest of their lives, or financial support to seek other vocations.
The Thingeyrar monestary was founded by Jon Ogmundsson bishop
of the northern see in 1112, but there are no records of monestary
life there until 1133, when Vilmundur Thorolfsson was ordained its
firs abbot. It was a Benedictine monestary up to the
Travel Guide Thingeyrar
The Munkathvera monestary was established by Bjorn Gislason,
bishop at Holar in 1155. It was also dedicated to the holy
Benedict and its first abbot was Hoskuldur, who is not recorded in any
The Hitardalur monestary was established in 1166, probably to
commemorate the big fire in Hitardalur in 1148, when bishop Magnus
Einarsson of Skalholt and a large number of other people were killed.
Farmer Thorleifur Thorlaksson at Hitardalur donated his property for
the establishment of a monestary, but no records have been found about
monestary lifel there. Only two abbots are vaguely mentioned,
Hreinn Styrmisson (ordained in 1166; †1177), and Haflidi (†1201
according to annals). It was probably a Benedictine monestary.
See Travel Guide
The Thykkvabaejar monestary was founded by Klaengur
Thorsteinsson, bishop at Skalholt in 1168, and dedicated to the holy
Augustus. Most of the monks of this order were ordained priests.
They practised discipline and celibacy. Its first abbot was
Thorlakur Thorhallsson, later bishop of Skalholt (the southern see)
and canonized by pope Johannes Paul II on January 14th 1984 as the
protecting saint of Iceland. He was educated by Eyjolfur
Saemundarson (Saemundur the learned). Thorlakur was ordained as
a priest very young. He also studied in Paris France and Lincoln
England. He probably got acquainted with the Augustine order in
France. He first became prior and then abbot. The
monestary was famous for its religious rites and the celibacy of the
brothers. Bishop Pall Jonsson of Skalholt allowed the people of
Iceland to pledge in the name of Thorlakur in 1198, and the next year
the parliament confirmed his sacredness. Thorlakur was elected
bishop of Skalholt in 1174.
Travel Guide Thykkvabaejarklaustur
The Flatey monestary. Bishop Klaengur Thorsteinsson
consecrated an Augustine monestary on the island Flatey on Bay
Breidafjodur in 1172. For unknown reasons it was moved to
Helgafell in 1184 or 1185. It probably served its purpose better
on the mainland. Its firs abbot was Ogmundur Kalfsson and the
monestary served until the reformation.
Only two convents, both of the Benedictine order, were established
during the middle ages in Iceland.
The convent at Kirkjubaer was established in 1186. Three
years later a woman named Halldora was ordained its firs abbess.
Its initiator most probably was Thorlakur Thorhallson, bishop of the
southern see. This convent served until the reformation.
Travel Guide Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
The convent of Reynistadur was initiated by Jonrundur, bishop
of the northern see, and Hallbera, who later became it s abbess
(1295). Bishop Jorundur had donated a few estates for this
purpose, and the convent was built at Stadur in Reynisnes. He
convinced Hallbera and other wealthy women to donate handsomely to the
convent. Jorundur and his successors remained the protectors of
the convent, which served until the reformation.
The Modruvellir Augustine monestary was established by bishop
Jorundur in 1296. Its first prior was Teitur, who is not
documented any further.See
travel Guide Morduvellir
The Augustine monestary on Island Videy probably was
established at the initiative of Thorvaldur Gissurarson and Snorri
Sturluson in 1225. Bishop Magnus at Skalholt was Thorvaldur's
brother. It was consecrated by him and he donated his income
from the area between river Botnsa and the Hafnarfjordur bay to the
monestary. Thorvaldur managed the monestary until he died in
1235. During the period 1344-1352 it was occupied by the
Benedictine order. It served until the reformation.
The Augustine monestary at Skrida was established in 1494 at
the initiative of bishop Stefan of Skalholt. In the beginning it
was managed by a prior, and its firs abbot's name was Narfi. He
was ordained in 1497. Vague sources mention, that the monestary
never housed many brothers and only one monk lived there in 1198.
According to archaeological excavations in 2006 contradicts these
sources. The monestary served until the reformation.
Travel Guide Skriduklaustur
In 2007, two catholic convents are serving in Iceland, one in town
Hafnarfjordur and the other in the fishing village Stykkisholmur.