Updated: Apr 26, 2021
A highlight for visitors to Reykjavík is the tall bronze Leifur Eiríksson statue and the massive Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrim’s church).
You can see the church tower from almost everywhere in the city, which is so convenient when navigating the city. I usually stay at my favorite hotel, Sunna Guesthouse. It is across the street from Leifur and the Hallgrímskirkja. My view this time is of the church but I am on a lower floor and cannot see Leif. The Leifur statue is a little over 10 feet tall, 5 feet wide, and 5 feet deep (10’2-3/4″ tall x 62-1/2 ” wide x 67-1/2″ deep) and weighs 3,000-pounds. The church tower rises way high in the air at 244 feet (74.5 meters tall) and is the largest church in Iceland.
In 1929, the U.S. Congress authorized a statue of Leifur Eiríksson be given to the people of Iceland on the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi. The statue was placed in Reykjavik on 03 May 1932. The huge church was planned about five years layer and It took 41 years (1945-1986) to build. My husband and son are General Contractors /Engineers. (Talk about a stretched out job site, guys!)
The statue faces west toward the Atlantic Ocean and Greenland with his back towards the beautiful Lutheran cathedral, Hallgrímskirkja.
We have an exact replica of the Reykjavík statue In the USA. It is shown in the photo below. The Eiríksson Memorial Committee of the United States, National League of Icelanders in America commissioned a copy of the original sculpture to be placed in front of the Icelandic Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. After the Fair, the statue was sent to the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
The statue here in the USA, and pictured above, was presented by the Icelandic National League in the United States for that 1939 World´s Fair and afterwards, Senator Warren G. Magnuson wanted the statue moved to Washington, D.C. However, the Icelandic National League decided to keep it at the Maritime Museum in Newport News. (Can anyone help with more information about this?)
Leifur Eiríksson was born in Iceland 960-970, the son of Eirik the Red, a Norwegian who had settled in Iceland after being banished from Norway. Interestingly, Eirík was also banished from Iceland and that is why he lived in Greenland. About 1000 A.D. Leifur Eiríksson landed on the North American coast. The sagas tell of his voyage from Iceland to Greenland and then to North America. The sagas also have stories of how wars with the Native Americans eventually drove them away. A medieval settlement has been uncovered at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which is an interesting story in itself. This year, a new 10 foot high Leifur Eiríksson statue was placed in L’Anse aux Meadows. A total of 16 Leifur Eiríksson statues are in North America now including one in Minot, North Dakota which is pictured below.
Leif left Iceland and went to Norway where King Olaf I welcomed him and asked if Leif would go tell the people in Greenland about Christianity. The king had recently been converted to Christianity. Leif did go to Greenland as the king had asked. Leifur’s mother, Þjóðhildur, accepted this new religion, but his father, Eirík, was firm in his pagan beliefs. Þjóðhildur then said she would not live with him unless he became a Christian and so then finally did Eirík change his religion.
Both of the statues — in Reykjavík and in Virginia are the work of American sculptor, Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945). He won a national competition for designing this monumental statue. Alexander Stirling Calder (11 Jan 1870 – 07 Jan 1945) was born to a sculptor, Alexander Milne Calder who designed the amazing City Hall in Philadelphia. In addition to the Leif Eiriksson statue in Reykjavík, A. Stirling Calder carved George Washington as President on the Washington Square Arch in New York City and the Swann Memorial Fountain in Philadelphia.
So, when you visit Iceland, make sure you visit Leif and the Hallgrímskirkja but if you ever come across information about the Leif Eiríksson statue that was commissioned by the Icelandic National League, please let me know. There is more to this story that I have not discovered yet.
Have a wonderful day!