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Grafarkirkja – The Oratory at Gröf

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

There are only five turf churches that remain standing in Iceland and photos of them are below. Two are located in the Skagafjörður: Viðimýrarkirkja (Víðimýri Church) — it is regarded as the finest and the Grafarkirkja (Gröf or Grave Church) — it is the oldest.

5 Turf Churches in Iceland

I’ve driven by the Gröf Church over a dozen times during my last seven trips to Iceland and had never stopped by to see it.

Traveling alone, it is difficult to watch for sheep and other possible driving hazards, navigate, study the map, and search the countryside all at the same time.

However, this time, I found it! You can see it in the distance.

The rain had stopped for just a short time and I was leaving Skagafjörður on my way to Reykjavík. The small turf chapel is called Grafarkirkja.

Just follow the path from the parking spot to the chapel.

The church was abolished by the Danish King in 1765. Apparently, it was used as a tool shed and a storage building.

In 1950, the National Museum of Iceland had it entirely rebuilt in its original form. In 1953, the bishop of Iceland reconsecrated it. The National Museum continues to take care of this oldest church in Iceland.

One of the most beloved pastors and poets, Hallgrímur Pétursson, was born at this farm called Gröf, in 1614 before the original church was built on this site.

The big Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, pictured below, is named after him. You can read more about the church HERE.

This Gröf farm and the little chapel are located south of Hofsós and northwest of Hólar. You can find it on the map below by looking at the middle long peninsula and it s located on the west side (left side) of that central peninsula below Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður.

The Gröf farm was used as a retirement estate for the widows of deceased Hólar Bishops.

One of the widows that stayed at the Gröf estate was Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir (1646 – 1715). At the age of 28, she was first married to Bishop Gísli Þorláksson in 1674 as his third wife. He had the church built.

After 10 years, Gísli died and Ragnheiður went to live at Gröf at the age of 38. Gísli was the Hólar Bishop from 1657-1684.

For the next eight years, Bishop Jón Vigfússon served (1684 – 1692) at Hólar. In 1692, Einar Þorsteinsson became the Hólar Bishop.

Four years later, in 1696, Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir became the wife of this bishop – Einar. One month after the wedding, Einar past away and Ragnheiður lived 19 years longer as a widow. She died in 1715 at the age of 69.

Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir is the first woman put on Icelandic banknotes. She is on the Icelandic 5000 Krónur from 1986.

On one side, you see Ragnheiður, her husband Gísli and his two earlier wives.

On the other side of this banknote, you see Ragnheiður teaching two girls embroidery. Initials from her pattern book are on the side.

The carvings and the church are believed to have been the work of the wood-carver, Guðmundur Guðmundsson.

He was from Bjarnastaðahlíð in Vesturdalur. This Baroque style of carving is very rare in Icelandic churches.

The graveyard is circular, which the storyboard panel says is a very ancient way of making the graveyard.

Personally, I like the places where people have touched the surfaces. I always wonder …… How many people have touched this gate? Who were they? What kind of life did they live?

I wonder ……. How many people have held this key? What did they discover in the depths of their soul when they turned the key to enter this chapel?

Who did they love? What sorrows and heartaches did they face? What joyous occasions happened here? What tears were shed inside these walls?

If you visit, there is not an entrance fee but you can leave a donation inside the church in a small box.

The textures of the turf walls and roof, the openess of the sky, the mountain in the backdrop ….. it is a beautiful place.

I loved going to visit this chapel and I most certainly will return now that I know exactly where to find it along the road.

And below …… one more picture …… Just one more look …..

Over my shoulder ….. as I leave the Skagafjörður

…… until next time.

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