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Our Ancestor – Guðbrandur Þorláksson at Hólar

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

One of our famous Icelandic ancestors died this month - 387 years ago.

In the year 1595, at the same age I am now, Bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson developed an amazing map of Iceland. He was the first to calculate latitude and longitude of Iceland. On the map, you will see many various and interesting sea creatures, hot springs, driftwood, bears, icebergs, and much more. A year later, his nephew, Arngrímur Jónsson, also an intelligent priest at Hólar, wrote about various Icelandic elves and many interesting sea creatures. The religious leaders in Iceland wrote down much of our Icelandic folklore.

Holar Gudbrandur Thorlaksson map

Guðbrandur Þorláksson (Gudbrandur Thorlaksson) was born in 1541. He was the son of the priest at Melstað í Miðfirði i Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla. Guðbrandur died at the age of 86 on 20 Jul 1627. He was a bishop, mathematician, map maker, and is also famous for book publishing. He is known to have edited and published over 80 books including the first Icelandic Bible and the Icelandic Lawbook.

Gudbrandur Thorlaksson

He was educated at the cathedral school in Hólar, which was established in 1106. Guðbrandur later went to Denmark and studied at the University of Copenhagen. He returned to Iceland and was a minister and later a bishop from 1571 until his death - a total of 56 years - the longest in the history of Iceland. He was known as one of the most educated and intelligent people of all Iceland. In Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association, they state, “He was a man of tireless energy, strong will, fervent faith, profound learning, and much literary ability.”

Guðbrandur is the first cousin once removed of the very famous Hallgrímur Pétursson, one of Iceland´s most famous poets and pastors. Here is a chart from the database showing the relationship.

Gudbrandur to Hallgrimur

Hallgrímur´s father was the bell-ringer at Hólar. The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík and another one at the Saurbær farmstead in Hvalfjörður are both named after Hallgrímur. His most important work is Passíusálmar (Passion Hymns) which many Icelandic pioneers to North America brought with them.

Hallgrímskirkja, Saurbær, Hvalfjörður

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík

Bishop Guðbrandur and many of his family members (and our ancestors) are buried at Hólar and you can still see the headstone of his wife, Halldóra Árnadóttir and my 11th Great Grandmother. Bishop Guðbrandur is my 10th Great Grandfather once and 11th Great Grandfather twice --- and very likely yours, too!

This is one of my most favorite places in Iceland. The feeling you get just standing in this area is of awe and reverence. I cannot wait to get back to Iceland and stand in the land of our ancestors once again - 5 weeks from today I will set off on my 9th visit and I know that it will be just wonderful and exciting as always.

Hólar, Hjaltadalur, Skagafjarðarsýsla

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