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Bessastadir Church

Region: Reykjavik Area
Coordinates: 64.1058012° N 21.9966091° W

This church belongs to the Gardar benefice in the Kjalarnes deanery. The Book of Icelanders, by the historian Sturla Thordarson, is the first written source about Bessastadir, when the estate was in the possession of the powerful chieftain and historian Snorri Sturluson. After his death, the Norwegian crown confiscated it. It soon became the seat of the governors of Norway and later Denmark until the end of the 18th century.

Bessastadir has been a church site and a parsonage from the year 1000. The oldest documented sources date back to the year 1200. The present church was 20 years under construction and it was consecrated in 1796. It is among the country’s oldest stone and concrete buildings. The steeple was not finished until 1823. The church is 23 m long, 11 m wide and the height from the floor to the ceiling is 4,5 m. The first church was dedicated to the Holy Virgin and St. Nicolas.

The stained windowpanes, made by Icelandic artists, depict parts of the Christian history of the country:

  • The first on the left shows the arrival of the Irish hermits, the so-called Papar (St. Brendan).
  • The first on the right depicts the acceptance of Christianity in the year 1000.
  • The second on the left commemorates the Catholic bishop Gudbrandur Thorlaksson.
  • The second on the right commemorates the last Catholic bishop of the northern see, Jon Arason.
  • The third on the left depicts the Rev. poet Hallgrimur Petursson.
  • The third on the right shows the Lutheran bishop Jon Vidalin.
  • The forth on the left shows the Sermon on the mountain.
  • The forth on the right shows the Holy Virgin.

The altar rail, by the same artists, depicts the four apostles. These images also remind of the country’s cote of arms with its four protective ghosts.

The renowned wood carver Rikhardur Jonsson made the large, carved crucifix on the northern wall. It served as the altarpiece until the National Museum donated the present one in 1921, depicting Christ healing the sick by the artist Muggur

Unnur Olafsdottir wove the altar cloth from flax grown on the property by the first lady of Iceland in 1950.

On both sides of the altar are tables with the names of the presidents and their spouses, who have passed away.

The church was thoroughly renovated in 1998.

The church remained closed during the latter part of 2009 because of vandalism.

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Photo Credit: OddurBen

WHAT TO SEE?
Nearby Bessastadir Church