Hallgrímskirkja - The Church of Hallgrímur Pétursson

Building history
The Icelandic Parliament was responsible for the church being built. The rules for the design competition (announced in 1929) specified that the church should seat 1200, and have a high tower that could potentially be used for transmission of radio signals. The state-architect, Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950), started to work on the design in 1937. A nationalistic style typified his work, as was common among Nordic architects of the period. Among many important buildings by Mr. Samúelsson in Reykjavík are the main building of the University of Iceland, the National Theatre, and the Roman Catholic Church of Christ. The architect drew richly on Icelandic traditions and materials in his designs, and Hallgrímskirkja, his ultimate work, shows this clearly, symbolizing mountains and glaciers soaring up through imitations of hexagonal basalt columns. Building work started in 1945, and in 1948, the first stage was completed: the ground floor at the back of the church was consecrated for church use. Services were held there until a new area in the south wing of the tower base was taken into service in 1974. The church was finally consecrated on 26 October, 1986, the day before the 312th anniversary of Hallgrímur Petursson’s death and the same year Reykjavík celebrated 200 years as a town and city. While the State and the City supported the building, 60 percent of the building costs came from parish funds and private gifts. The church has benefited from many gifts presented in memory of loved ones or to enhance the spiritual dimension of the parish and its church. The Hallgrímskirkja Ladies’ Guild was established in 1942 and has nobly supported the church and its life in many ways.

Sacred and secular
Hallgrímskirkja is an active parish church. Services are at 11 am every Sunday and on religious holidays throughout the year. Morning service is every Wednesday. An Anglican service in English is held on the last Sunday of each month at 2 pm. There are lively activities for children and youth as well. From September to the end of May, there are various kinds of liturgical activities in the church, such as prayers, evening church, organ matinées, music meditation etc. Hallgrímskirkja is known for its excellent acoustics and is a popular venue for concerts

Hallgrímskirkja has two organs. The concert organ is the largest in the country and world renowned for its quality of tone. Inaugurated in December 1992, it was constructed by Johannes Klais Organworks in Bonn, Germany. It has four manuals and a pedalboard, 72 stops and 5275 pipes. It is 15 meters high and weighs 25 tons. The largest pipes are 10 meters long. The organ was mainly financed by private gifts. People were offered the opportunity to purchase individual pipes. There are still pipes left to be bought. Upon purchase one gets a paper certifying that the purchaser is the patron of a particular pipe. The small chancel organ has 10 voices, and was built by Th. Frobenius-Organ works in Lyngby, Denmark. It was inaugurated in December 1985. The church shop has a selection of CDs that have been recorded in the church.

Church bells
The tower belfry has three great bells and a 29-bell carillon. The three great bells have names: Hallgrímur, Guðríður and Steinunn, the names of the great poet Hallgrímur, his wife and their daughter.

The Ladies Guild
The Hallgrímskirkja Ladies’ Guild was established in 1942, and has nobly supported the church and its life in many ways.

Church Decorations
The main door of the church (1), the stained glass window above it (currently not accessible), the windows in the doors into the nave (2), and in the pulpit (3), as well as the baptismal font (4), are all the work of the Icelandic artist Leifur Breiðfjörð. The glass panels of the pulpit incorporate reproductions on glass from Hallgrímur Pétursson’s manuscript of Hymns of the Passion, together with traditional symbols for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The rear of the pulpit has a glass panel with Christ’s monogram, the Greek letters chi and rho, flanked by the letters alpha and omega, reminding us of Revelations 21:6 “I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.” Above the pulpit is a canopy (or a sounding board) around which is carved “Let God’s hand lead you here” taken from the 44th Hymn of the Passion, and below is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The colors of the glass also have their meaning: green for hope, development and maturity and violet for repentance, the color of Lent. The pulpit was the gift of Sigurbjörn Einarsson, former Bishop of Iceland, who was the parish’s first priest. The baptismal font, from 2001, combines a base of Icelandic basalt and a bowl of Czech lead crystal. In the glass is engraved a passage from the Gospel according to St. Mark (16:16): “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.” The stone is engraved with a prayer by Hallgrímur: “May God the Father be my father.” The font was the gift of the Ladies’ Guild of Hallgrímskirkja. In the nave, on the left as one faces the altar, there is a sculpture called The Martyr (5), by Sigurjón Ólafsson (1908-1982), and on opposite side of the church is a small bronze statue by Einar Jónsson (1874-1954), The Guardian Angel (6), dedicated to Hallgrímur Pétursson. In 1948 Einar Jónsson gave the church the statue of Christ (7), that stands to the left of the door as you leave the nave. It shows the Redeemer after His immersion in the River Jordan, when the Spirit of God descended upon him. In the chapel to the left of the chancel is a picture of Mary, Mother of God, with the Godchild (8), by Guðmundur Einarsson (1895-1963). On each side of the chancel are icons by Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir (b. 1963), depicting the Archangels Gabriel (9), and Michael (10).

Floor plan and location of decorations in the church


The square in front of the church
Standing on the square in front of the church is the statue of Leifur Eiríksson. He is one of the best known Vikings of the Viking age Iceland, the first European to arrive in America in the year 1000 preceding the Christopher Columbus voyage by roughly half a millennia. Erected in 1931, the statue was a gift from the United States to Iceland to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of Alþingi, the Parliament of Iceland. It has an identical brother statue in Newport News, Virginia.In 1793, a small cairn tower was built on the hill. It served a similar purpose as Hallgrímskirkja church does now, with locals and visitors using it for sightseeing and enjoying the panoramic view of the small town and surrounding countryside. It was also one of the best known and most loved landmarks of Reykjavík and gave its name to the hill: Skólavörðuholt which literally means the “school cairn hill” and Skólavörðustígur, the street leading up to the church, translates as “school cairn street.“ In 2013, a monument of the school cairn was erected on Skólavörðuholt hill, slightly to the south of the statue of Leifur Eiríksson. To the south of the square on the corner is the sculpture museum and garden of the sculpturist Einar Jónsson. It is well worth visiting.

Christianity in Iceland
There have been Christians in Iceland from the very earliest days, even before the Age of Settlement in the 9th century. The earliest settlers were Celts, Christian monks seeking solitude, but they disappeared as the Norse settlers arrived in 830. Among the Norse settlers were Christians. In the Althing of 1000, Christianity was declared the national religion, a decision that prevented a religious civil war. The Icelandic church was part of the Roman Catholic Church until the mid-1500s, when the teachings of Martin Luther were introduced by royal decree of the King of Denmark, who at that time ruled Iceland. The Church of Iceland is Evangelical-Lutheran and about two thirds of Icelanders belong to it.

Hallgrímur Pétursson and The Hymns of Passion
Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 – 1674) is the best known sacred poet of Iceland. When still a child, his father moved to the Bishop’s residence at Hólar in Hjaltadalur in the north of Iceland and Hallgrímur there received education. He was apprenticed as a blacksmith in Copenhagen, but abandoned the trade and studied in the Vor Frue Skole from 1632 to 1637. While there he met Guðríður Símonardóttir, who had been in slavery in Algeria. Hallgrímur and Guðríður returned to Iceland where Hallgrímur became a priest at Hvalsnes in the Reykjanes peninsula and later at Saurbær in Hvalfjörður. He died in 1674. Hallgrimur is most famous for his Hymns of the Passion, a series of 50 meditations on the martyrdom of Christ, written in 1656-59. The poems are generally considered to be classic in Icelandic literature. Verses of the poems have accompanied Icelanders for more than three centuries. They are read on national radio during Lent and in many churches on Good Friday. Hymns of the Passion have been translated into nine languages, including Danish, Norwegian, German, Dutch, Hungarian. A new translation into English by Gracia Grindal was published in 2019.