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Skálholt: The Site of Iceland’s Christian History

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Skálholt: The Site of Iceland’s Christian History

Watch this audio slideshow about Skálholt, one of Iceland’s most important historical sites. This is the place where the country’s first bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson (ordained in 1056), settled half a century after Iceland converted to Christianity. For centuries Skálholt served as the country’s actual capital, cultural and spiritual center.

Photos and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir[email protected]The photos were taken in June 2009.

Click here to download the audio slideshow.

For further information about Skálholt, read on, or visit its official website skalholt.is.

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Skálholt is one of Iceland’s most important historical sites as it is the place where the country’s first bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson (ordained in 1056), settled half a century after Iceland converted to Christianity.

Other influential bishops who resided at Skálholt include Thorlákur Thórhallsson (bishop 1178-1198), Iceland’s only saint, and Brynjólfur Sveinsson (bishop 1639-1674), one of the best known Icelandic bishops after the reformation in the mid-16th century. Sveinsson was highly respected for his learning and had the first wooden church built at Skálholt.

For centuries Skálholt served as Iceland’s actual capital, cultural and spiritual center. But after waning status of the bishop’s office, volcanic eruptions, a major earthquake and other disasters in the late 18th century, the episcopal see and school were transferred to Reykjavík.

Due to its historical significance, Skálholt reclaimed some of its ancient glory in the mid-20th century. The modern cathedral, inaugurated in 1963, is well known for its works of modern art, as well as for artifacts from previous churches on the site.

In the crypt is an exhibition from the National Museum of Iceland, including the sarcophagus of bishop Páll Jónsson (bishop 1195-1211), unearthed in 1954. Archaeological excavations at Skálholt have revealed many interesting finds that can be seen and studied there.

A copy of the first Icelandic Bible edition Gudbrandsbiblía (printed at Iceland’s other bishopric, Hólar in north Iceland, in 1584) is also preserved at Skálholt.

Skálholt is located in the region of Biskupstungur in south Iceland, between the rivers Hvítá and Brúará. Mt. Vördufell watches over the site, while Mt. Hestfjall can be spotted further to the south. In clear weather the volcano Hekla can bee seen from Skálholt.

Visitors to Skálholt can take historical tours of the surrounding countryside, while enjoying the scenery and the local animal life. If they are lucky they might see a foal or two and even the odd bird nest.

The present Skálholt school is an educational and cultural center for the national Lutheran church. Accommodation and restaurant facilities—including medieval banquets by arrangement—are available all year at the school. Every weekend in July summer concerts are held there, attracting a number of visitors.

Skálholt is often included in the Golden Circle Tour where the main attractions are Thingvellir national park, the erupting hot spring Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall.

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