Grafarkirkja – Iceland - Atlas Obscura


The oldest church in Iceland is one of the few to feature ornate decoration. 


Originally constructed in the late 17th century, the turf church known as Grafarkirkja is not only the oldest Christian church in Iceland, but it is also one of the very few to feature any sort of ornamentation.

While it is believed that there was a church of some sort on the spot that Grafarkirkja now rests, the 17th-century construction that remains today is thought to have been the work of a wood carver named Guðmundur Guðmundsson. Guðmundsson was so renowned in his day that his name survived down the centuries along with the unique woodwork he left on the church despite his position as a craftsman. Baroque design patterns adorn some of the support rafters and the altar is well-known for its idiosyncratic carvings as well. Most other turf structures from the time were relatively ascetic in their design, making Grafarkirkja stick out among its fellow historical sites as being of particular beauty.

The church was actually deconsecrated not long after its construction and for years it was used as a tool shed. Despite this, the ancient turf oratory survived remarkably well across the centuries but eventually the National Museum of Iceland had the structure entirely rebuilt to its original condition in 1950. Now visitors can still visit the old holy house and remark on the long earthen history the chapel shack represents.

Know Before You Go

Note there's a number of places called "Grof" in Iceland (it means grave)! This one is near the town of Hofsos in the north of Iceland. Co-ordinates are 65.87N, 19.37W. You should be able to see it from the road to the east.

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