Time for Church!

While preparing for my recent photo trip to Iceland, I studied various travel guides as well as a detailed, foldout map the country, and one item that kept popping up was the little churches that seem to be sprinkled all over the country. I kept coming across photos of these cute little white churches with red roofs, the guide books mentioned them in just about every town, and the map even showed the location of every single church. So I knew I had to visit some of these for myself and see what they were all about.

The first one that really caught my eye was in the town of Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland, where I spent my second night. As I was walking around town in a light rain near dusk, I couldn’t help but notice the brightly lit church in the middle of town. My intent had been to photograph little churches out in the country surrounded by grand landscapes of mountains and fjords, but this little gem in the middle of town was too good to pass up. I really like the way the purple lighting contrasts with the dark blue that the sky turns just before it goes to complete black.

Grundarfjordur Church, Grundarfjordur, Iceland

Grundarfjordur Church, Grundarfjordur, Iceland

The town was cute, too. One of the larger towns in the area with a population of about 900, everything about it was neat and tidy. Much of the road system in Iceland is unpaved, but this town had perfectly paved sidewalks and streets, and nicely landscaped yards and well maintained houses. The town’s wealth is due to its success in the fishing industry. While there I met an interesting chap whose family owned the only restaurant in town, if you don’t count the grill in the gas station. He was well traveled and educated, not uncommon for Icelanders, but had lived in Grundarfjörður all his life working on fishing boats, and has no intention of ever leaving. Nice as it is, though, I’m not quite ready to move there!

The next day I came across a couple of churches in more rural settings. One was in the community of Ingjaldsholl, which has had a church since at least the year 1200 A.D. The one that exists today was build in 1903, but contains many components from earlier buildings, including church bells from the early 1700s. There is also a painting of Christopher Columbus, and legend has it that he visited this town in 1477 while in Iceland to study the journey of Nordic seafarers to North America.

Ingjaldsholl Church, Ingjaldsholl, Iceland

Ingjaldsholl Church, Ingjaldsholl, Iceland

As I traveled further away from the capitol of Reykjavik into a remote area known as the Westfjords, I decided to visit an area called Rauðisandur, or Red Sand, for its beautiful red sand beaches. And sure enough, between a couple of farms pretty much in the middle of nowhere, was a cute little church that broke the usual mold for churches, which usually have white walls with red roof. This one had black walls with a red roof. I’m not sure if anything can be inferred about the piety of the congregation, but the red on black sure makes for a striking combination.

Little Black Church With Red Roof,  Westfjords, Iceland

Little Black Church With Red Roof, Westfjords, Iceland

What’s not obvious from these images is the conditions under which they were taken. Sure, it looks all sunny and nice in the pictures, but the reality was quite different. The temperature wasn’t that bad, usually hovering around the freezing mark, which for me is not that cold. But the wind! The wind was significant just about everywhere I went in Iceland, but during the Rauðisandur shoot, it was really blowing something fierce. I had to duck behind a block fence and use a couple of technical tricks to keep the camera steady enough to get a sharp image under these somewhat harsh conditions.

So what is the primary religion in Iceland? The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is the officially established Christian church in Iceland, started in 1540 and organised into one diocese headed by the Bishop of Iceland. The current Bishop of Iceland is Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, the first woman to hold this position.

So now you know!

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6 Responses to “Time for Church!”

  1. Carmen Clemente says:

    Super cool, Ed! I totally enjoyed the pictures and stories behind them!


  2. Great article Ed. It seems like a really neat place to visit. I’ll have to come see you up in the northwest soon.

    • Ed Leckert says:

      Thanks, Michael! It had its moments. Jury is still out on the speed trap (in the extreme sense of the word) situation. I’ll let you know how it ends.

      Yes, please come visit, but let’s talk about the weather first!

  3. Sue-Z says:

    Beautiful images Ed. Did you have the opportunity to peak inside any of these gems?
    Please note new email

    • Ed Leckert says:

      I did not, except for the big one in Reykjavik (not pictured here). Most were probably locked, and I didn’t have a good feel for which, if any, were on private property.


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