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Bishop Guðmundur the Good

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

On this day in 1237, Bishop Guðmundur Góði Arason (Gudmundur the Good) died. (1161 – March 16, 1237). He was ordained as a priest in 1185 at 24-years-old and elected Bishop of Hólar in 1203. This is one of my favorite places in Iceland. The sign by the road says in Icelandic, ”Welcome home to Hólar.”

Bishop Guðmundur performed over forty miracles and six were contending with demons. He was very generous with the Church’s holdings to assist his countrymen. People heard about him and after a short time, many poor people came to Hólar for Guðmundur’s charity.

The local chieftains became very angry with Guðmundur’s over-generosity. He had many disputes with the local chieftains through his years as a bishop. The Sturlunga Saga tells us that in 1221, Guðmundur was driven away from Hólar during advent and he spent a few months with his followers on an island called Málmey in the Skagafjörður Bay. An ancient spell was placed on the island so no mice or horses can live on Málmey. No married couple can live there longer than 20 years or the wife will disappear.

An Icelandic legend says that evil trolls lived on the island of Drangey near the island of Málmey. (right) Whenever men went to pick eggs or hunt birds at Drangey (below), they fell to their deaths. When Guðmundur became the Bishop at Hólar, he went to the island with several priests and blessed the island with holy water. He wanted the men to find food on the island and he had many hungry and poor people to feed. As they went around the island, a huge and hairy paw came out of the cliff face and started to cut their ropes but the rope was soaked in holy water.

The creature said to Guðmundur, “Stop your blessings. Even the evil need a place to live.” Guðmundur did stop the blessings and he declared that area as a refuge for the evil creatures to live. Ever since there have been fewer accidents on the island, and bird hunters and egg gatherers have been left alone. The name of the place Guðmundur did not bless is Heiðnaberg (Heathen Cliff) and no one picks eggs or hunts there.

Guðmundur blessed other places where evil lived but he always left small areas for the evil to live. He blessed water, ponds, wells, and many places around Iceland. The water supply for Reykjavík even comes from one of the wells that Guðmundur blessed.

Because of his ongoing battles with the chieftains, Guðmundur was forced to take exile at Málmey. Several of his followers killed the leader of his persecutors at Hólar. Guðmundur then moved to Grimsey Island and stayed there until he was attacked and he fled to Norway. He finally returned to Iceland as an older and more quiet bishop who did not cause any more problems for the chieftains. He died at about 76 years of age.

Guðmundur was very kind and generous. The people all around Iceland considered him a national saint but the Catholic Church has not officially recognized him as a saint. The only Saint from Iceland is St Þorlák.

The very last Catholic Bishop in Iceland was beheaded and I wrote about him here.

Still on my ”bucket list” is to climb to the top of Guðmundur´s mountain behind Hólar. You can climb up the mountain to Gvendarskál. This is where Guðmundur went every Friday to pray at an altar called Gvendaraltari. I need to do this next time I am in Iceland. I have heard there is a guest book up there and that the view is spectacular.

So, today …. we celebrate the day of Guðmundur Góði (Gudmundur the Good). Have a wonderful day!

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