Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Hallgrímskirkja - Reykjavik

This church can be seen from almost anywhere in Reykjavik city and as you are approaching the city. This is not because the church is exceptionally high but more because everything else in the city is actually quite low rise so that the church which is on a bit of a hill does actually stand well above the other buildings. It is the sixth tallest building in the country so not surprising that it can be  seen from all over Reykjavik.

Strangely the church actually looks bigger from further away than it does when you are up close. Once inside the main church part it is not anywhere near as big as some of our cathedrals and more like a decent sized town’s church. However it is the largest church in all of Iceland.

The church was designed by Gudjon Samuelson who was  the former state architect. Samuelson is supposed to have taken his inspiration from the volcanic basalt rock formations found in so many parts of Iceland. The church took an amazing 38 years to build as construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986 which seems an incredibly long time to me and I am not sure why it did take so long as it really isn’t as huge or complex as many other modern buildings which have been built is far less time.

The tower stands over 73 metres high and is certainly an impressive sight. It is not highly decorated or colourful nor are there any fine stone carved decorations but still it is impressive in its simplicity.  It does indeed look like a rock edifice but beautifully symmetrical.

The church is open daily from 9.00 to 20.00 and is free to look around the church on ground level. If however you want to go up the tower in the lift then there of around 350ISK for adults, a discount for senior citizens and children from 6 to 12 are 50ISK.

Outside the church centrally located perfectly is a huge statue of the Icelandic explorer who actually discovered America, Leifur Eiriksson. He sailed to America in 1000 AD but this is largely forgotten in favour of Columbus’s 1492 voyage of discovery maybe because of a lack of documentation at the time.

If you do visit I highly recommend paying to go up in the lift which takes you to the first level where the clocks can be seen from the outside. You can look through windows in the clocks and get fabulous views of Reykjavik from all four sides. I got some great photos taken through these windows which are parts of a circle so a curved shape which made a great frame.

Once at this level you can climb a stair case to the top and from here you can see from higher up and without glass obstructions but you do have to endure the icy winds so I went up felt as though I was being blown away and frozen so I retreated down to the next level again.

Downstairs in the church it is all very simple with few decorations. Some of the windows had stained  glass pictures and there was a lot of modern polished wood around the altar area.. The church also is very proud of its organ which is the biggest in Iceland. It did indeed look pretty impressive from below and we were told It is 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tons!!

 The church was opened in 1986 and its name comes from an Iceland priest and hymn writer named Hallgrimur Petursson. I have to admit not someone I had ever heard of before visiting this church.

The churches in Iceland tend to be Lutheran, as this is hence the simplicity and lack of decoration both outside and inside. Personally I loved the clean lies and simple stained glass modern designs and the tall simple windows making the area with the altar a bit like a ship in shape. The pulpit was ultra modern and very simple which again I found attractive in comparison to the ornate carved ones so often found in old churches, it was a refreshing change.

The church is really a must visit place in Reykjavik if only for the wonderful views over the colourful rooftops of Reykjavik. The bells were pretty impressive too if you looked up instead of out of the clock windows. They didn’t ring while we were there so not sure how noisy they would be if you are in the tower when they are rung.

This is a very different church both from the outside and the inside and well worth spending around an hour exploring. After you have been to the church you should visit Cafe Loki and sample some Icelandic specialities as they offer some great taster plates. They also have a great display of photos of the church taken in all different lights which is pretty impressive. Sitting in the café you can enjoy views of the church and see if from another angle too.

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