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Archaeologists Believe Monks Did Not Share Churches

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Archaeologists Believe Monks Did Not Share Churches

An archaeological excavation site by Hólakirkja church in Hólar, North Iceland.

Library picture. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

Ongoing archaeological research into old monastic cloisters in Iceland is indicating that parish churches were not also used as churches for the cloisters, as had usually been assumed. It appears the monks preferred to build their own churches or chapels.

The researchers have now begun their search for the cloisters at Möðruvellir and Munkaþverá in the Eyjafjörður area of North Iceland.

The archaeological research is part of a project by Icelandic and British scientists looking for lost monastic sites in Iceland.

“It has gone especially well at Möðruvellir. We have found ruins on several sites that we want to look closer at,” archaeologist Steinunn J. Kristjánsdóttir told RÚV.

Iceland Review reported last week that the same group of scientists believe they have found the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur in South Iceland, and that it was not near the parish church as had previously been assumed.

In North Iceland the archaeologists have yet to find conclusive evidence of the cloisters. However, they have managed to rule out several locations which were long thought to be where they were—most notably near to parish churches.

Steinunn concludes that this probably means that cloisters in Iceland were not built near churches at all and instead that the monks built their own churches.

“I think it is highly unlikely that, when cloisters were established, that churches nearby were used. Because there is so much difference between monastic chapels and parish churches, or home churches. They were the churches of the people, the flock, and not of the cloisters,” she says.

Given Iceland’s historically very low population and extremely low population density, this goes against previous assumptions.

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