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Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Probably the best-known saga to highlight Snæfellsnes is Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss (The Saga of Bárður God of Snæfellsnes). This saga tells the story of Bárður, a half-giant who lived on the Snæfellsnes peninsula during the settlement period. The story was written down during the 13th or 14th Century. The earliest surviving manuscript is from the 1400s. Bárður is treated as a deity or spirit that protects people who live and travel to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. If you visit Iceland, there is a stone monument to him to which you can pay your respects. We will tell you where it is later, but first, let´s get to the story of Bárður.

  (Photo by Theo Crazzolara, Creative Commons License)
Stone monument honoring Bárðar (Photo by Theo Crazzolara, Creative Commons License)

Bárður (IR #592545) travels from Norway to Djúpalón on the Southern shore of Snæfellsnes. He is the son of King Dumbr, who rules over a huge kingdom extending from Scandinavia in the East to Helluland (Baffin Island in Northern Canada) in the West. King Dumbr is half-giant and half-troll. His wife, Bárður´s mother, is a human named Mjöll. The saga identifies Bárður also as a half-giant, which gives him superhuman strength.

Snæfellsnes is outlined in red
Snæfellsnes is outlined in red

Bárður is not raised by his parents but is fostered in Norway by a giant named Dofri. He marries one of Dofri´s daughters and has three daughters with her. The eldest is named Helga. She will appear prominently in the saga. Upon the death of his first wife, Bárður married a second Norwegian woman and had six more daughters with her.

Like many other early settlers of Iceland, Bárður became concerned about the despotic rule of Harald “fairhair," the first King of all of Norway. In response, he leaves for Iceland, landing at Djúpalón (deep lagoon) in Snæfellsnes. Bárður builds a home at a place called Laugarbrekka and is known to have bathed in a pool called Bárðarlaug (Bárður´s pool).

To tell the next part of the story, it is helpful to use the "Close Saga Places" feature of the Icelandic Roots database. This feature integrates data about farm locations in Iceland with the University of Iceland´s Saga Map. Bárður has a half-brother named Þorkell who lives at a farm called “Arnarstapi." Þorkell´s family is featured in the next part of the saga. We typed in Þorkell's farm at "Arnarstapi, Laugarbrekkusókn, Snæfellsnessýsla" and found saga places within 10km. This will help us locate the places mentioned in the story (see map below).

Þorkell, has two sons Rauðfeldur and Sölvi. In Chapter 5 of the saga, Bárður´s daughters and Þorkell´s sons are playing by the sea in the winter at Þorkell´s farm (see Pin #1 on the map below). During their play, Rauðfeldur pushes Helga onto an ice flow. The wind picks up rapidly and the ice flow drifts out to sea. It drifts for seven days landing Helga in Greenland. Bárður, believing his daughter is dead, becomes extremely upset when he learns the news that she has drifted away to the ocean. He marches to Þorkell´s farm, picks up Rauðfeldur and Sölvi, and hikes with them, one under each arm, quite a ways to a mountain north of the sea (see Pin #13 on the map). At this mountain is a deep glacial ravine. The mountain is large and round and the ravine is like a deep sliver through it, extending all the way to the base of the mountain. He hikes up the ravine to the top. He hurls Rauðfeldur off the top of the ravine, instantly killing him on impact. The ravine has since been called "Rauðfeldur's Ravine.” He then takes Sölvi south and east to a sea cliff (see Pin #2 on the map below) and hurls Sölvi off that cliff to his death. The sea cliff has since been called "Sölvi's Cliff.”

Bárður returns to Arnarstapi and announces the killings, as is a legal requirement. It is after some time that Þorkell learns his sons have been killed since he is apparently out to sea. But, once he returns, he immediately marches over to Bárður´s place and the two begin wrestling. Since they are both half-giants, the superhuman nature of their fight destroys much of the surrounding landscape. Bárðar eventually wins the match, breaking Þorkell's leg. However, Bárður experiences deep anguish afterward. He believes his daughter Helga is dead and feels remorse for killing his nephews and injuring his brother.

In his great emotional pain, Bárður decides it would be better if he did not live among humans. So he goes off to the glacier (see Pin #24 on the map above) and becomes a protective spirit for others on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. People start calling him the "God of Snæfellsnes" when he takes on this role. The statue of Bárður (see photo above) watches over the Snæfellsnes peninsula. There have been citings reported of Bárðar as well and he appears as an oversized half-giant who wears a gray cloak. He has a walrus hide rope as a belt and a thick staff with a barb on the end. The barb is used to grip the ice on the glacier.

If you visit Snæfellsnes, you can visit the statue of Bárður. The statue is located at Arnastapi (see Pin #1 of the map). He will likely watch over you during your trip to this part of Iceland.


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