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Guðmundur the Good

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Bishop Guðmundur Góði (the good) Arason is IR # I138506. He was born an illegitimate child in 1161 at Grjótá in the Hörgárdalur Valley. He died on the 16th of March, 1237 at the northern seat of the Bishop at Hólar in Skagafjörður. Though Guðmundur did not have any descendants, it is fun to see how these famous people are related to us, where they fit into our story and learn more about their lives.

Guðmundur was ordained as a priest in 1185 at 24-years-old and elected Bishop of Hólar in 1203. There is something very special about the old church, graveyard, school, and the surrounding area. The sign by the road says in Icelandic, ”Welcome home to Hólar.”

This statue is dedicated to him and is near the Hólar church and graveyard. He is considered a saint by the people of Iceland but the Catholic Church has not recognized him as a saint. The only recognized Saint from Iceland is Saint Þorlákur. You can read more about him here.

Guðmundur blessed many places across Iceland including water, ponds, wells, and land. The water supply for Reykjavík comes from one of the wells he blessed.

Bishop Guðmundur performed over forty miracles. Six were contending with demons and each has a story associated with the miracle. He was very generous with the Church’s holdings to assist his countrymen. People heard about his miracles and generosity. 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. This is another island in Skagafjörður near the island of Málmey. Whenever men went to pick eggs or hunt birds at Drangey, 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 at the island, and bird hunters and egg gatherers have been left alone. This place is called Heiðnaberg (Heathen Cliff). No one picks eggs or hunts there.

On Monday, we celebrate Guðmundur Góði (Gudmundur the Good) and remember his life and good works. The map below shows his birth (1161) and his death (16 Mar 1237) locations. You can find this interactive map on his personal page in IR.

When you go to Iceland, go to the beautiful Skagafjörður and visit Hólar. it is a very important place in our history. The diocese was founded in 1106 and was one of the two main centers for education in Iceland during medieval times. The present church, Hólakirkja, was consecrated on the 20th of November, 1763. It is the oldest stone church in Iceland. Nearby, you can see a turf house built in 1854. People lived in this house until 1945.

The Agricultural School at Hólar began in 1881. You can climb up the mountain to Gvendarskál. This is where Guðmundur went every Friday to pray at an altar called Gvendaraltari. Another location at Hólar, which is very special is called Gvendarbrunnar. This is a well blessed by Guðmundur (Gvendur).

On the property is a very tall church tower. You can climb stairs up to the church bell. It was built in 1950. this was the 400 year anniversary of another famous bishop's death. Our common ancestor, Jón Arason, was the last Catholic Bishop in Iceland. He was beheaded 07 Nov 1550 by the Danish crown for not converting to Lutheranism. Two of his sons were also killed this same day. You can find them in the database as IR #I134105 plus his two sons, Björn and Ari, who were also priests. They have many descendants and we can all find our relationship back to Bishop Jón. He is my 12th Great Grandfather.

Nearby Hólar is another very special place at the farm, Neðri-Ás. Archeologists have discovered ruins from historic churches on this site. Þorvarður Spak-Böðvarsson, IR #I88244, lived at this site. Our shared stories say that Þorvarður became a Christian in 981 and built a church on his farm. You will find a large stone with a plaque near Neðri-Ás. The Icelandic text translation to English is, 'Þorvarður Spak-Böðvarsson had a church built on this farm, Ás. This church was built 16 winters before Christianity was adopted in Iceland.' - The Saga of Christianity.

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