On my travels in Iceland I visit all the farm churches I encounter - and to visit some of them I travel for long distances. There are several historical churches in Eyjafjörður fjord in North-Iceland, the longest fjord in Iceland. Three of them are located near the Eyjafjörður fjord mouth; the church at Grund, Saurbæjarkirkja turf church and Munkaþverá church.
The church at Grund is ever so beautiful and different from most other churches in Iceland in that it has got a lovely spear tower. At Grund there has been a church since ancient times and the first mention of a church here at Grund was in year 1106. Back in Catholic times in Iceland the church was dedicated to St. Laurents.
The present church was built in 1905 by the farmer, Magnús Sigurðsson, and belonged to him. He cut its window panes himself, but a head-carpenter, Ásmundur Bjarnason, drew the church. It is the biggest church in Iceland built by an individual.
Ancient church relics from Grund are now kept at the National Museum of Iceland, a chalice from the 15th century and an exquisite chair from before year 1550, from when Þórunn Jónsdóttir was the mistress at Grund. She was the daughter of Jón Arason, who was the last Catholic bishop at Hólar in Hjaltadalur, beheaded in 1550 at Skálholt.
I took the photo above of the chair of Þórunn on one of my visits to the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík. It is carved in birch and is the property of the National Museum of Denmark.
One can walk up the stairs and open a door to the balcony of the church and from there you have great view of this lovely church. And don't forget to sign the guest-book :) Last time I visited Grundarkirkja church it was closed - maybe too many people were visiting it?
Grund used to be one of the most prominent manors of Eyjafjörður and here lived Chieftain Sighvatur Sturluson, who got killed in Örlygsstaðabardagi battle in 1238, the biggest Viking battle in Iceland. He was the brother of the well known Chieftain Snorri Sturluson, who has been called the most influential Icelander ever. Later on Sighvatur's son, Þórður kakali, lived for a while at Grund.
Grundarkirkja church, being such a historical church, is declared as protected.
This beautiful church is located in Eyjafjörður on road 821 a little bit further away than Hrafnagil and the Christmas House, ca 20 km away from the Capital City of the North - Akureyri. It stands on one's left hand side and is only a 2 minute's drive from the road.
Saurbæjarkirkja turf church
In the innermost part of Eyjafjörður you will find Saurbæjarkirkja turf church, which is one of the few turf churches left in Iceland and the biggest one of the original turf churches. It was erected in 1858.
I have dedicated a special travel blog to Saurbæjarkirkja turf church, as these few remaining turf churches in Iceland are to me pure gems. There is only a handful left of these beautiful turf churches in Iceland, but in the olden days all the churches in Iceland were made of turf.
Saurbæjarkirkja church is located by road 821 just above Smámunasafnið Museum - the Sverrir Hermannsson's Sundry Collection, from where you can get the key to the church in summer time.
Möðruvallakirkja church is one of two churches by the same name in this area, this one is called Möðruvallakirkja in Eyjafjörður and the other one is called Möðruvallakirkja in Hörgárdalur valley, north of Akureyri.
The current church at Möðruvellir in Eyjafjörður was built in 1847 and consecrated in 1848. It has got no tower but a big wooden cross. The most precious relic in Möðruvallakirkja church is an altarpiece (triptych) from Nottingham, England, made of alabaster, donated to the church in 1484. It is a true masterpiece and I was actually surprised to see such an old altarpiece being still in the church and not at our National Museum.
Catholic churches at Möðruvellir were dedicated to St. Martin.
The belfry at Möðruvellir, dating back to 1780, is the only one left of its kind in Iceland. The bells are also old (for Iceland), dating back to 1769, 1799 and 1867. The belfry is preserved and belongs to Þjóðminjasafnið - the National Museum of Iceland since 1962, but the church itself belongs to the farmer at Möðruvellir.
Most of our churches are locked nowadays as they have been vandalised, but we usually ask the farmer for the key to the church. My husband has the "job" of asking the farmers for the keys to the churches, that is why you see my standing in front of the church door in the first photo, waiting for him to come back with the key ;)
At Munkaþverá there was a monastery for 396 years from 1155-1551, but in 1429 the monastery and the church burnt to the ground with a lot of valuables and 2 priests died. The present church at Munkaþverá was erected in 1844.
Munkaþverá was in the olden days one of the best lands in Iceland and here chieftains resided. The church is so beautiful on the inside, very decorative with a rainbow painted from the altarpiece along the whole ceiling.
Munkaþverá church was dedicated to Virgin Mary back then when the nation was Catholic.
Apparently in the graveyard a Sturlungareitur or the plot of Sturlungar is to be found, where Chieftain Sighvatur Sturluson of the Sturlung Clan and his sons are buried. They got killed in the biggest Viking battle in Iceland - the Örlygsstaðabardagi battle - which took place between the biggest Viking clans in Iceland in 1238 in Skagafjörður.
There is a statue of Bishop Jón Arason, the last Catholic bishop, on the site where the old monastery used to stand. Jón Arason studied to become priest here at Munkaþverá. His daughter lived at Grund, where the beautiful Grundarkirkja church stands, which I mention here above.
At Munkaþverá, former Þverá or Efri-Þverá, was the home of Víga-Glúmur, the protagonist of the Saga Víga-Glúmur. He was the grandson of Ingjaldur who settled at Þverá and built a heathen temple here. Ingjaldur was the son of Helgi magri, the settler of Eyjafjörður.
Munkaþverá is located in Eyjafjörður fjord on the east side of the fjord. To get to the church cross the bridge by Hrafnagil and turn right, drive for a few km and Munkaþverá will be on your right hand side, not very visible from the road. You will then have to drive down to it.
Eyjafjörður fjord is filled with interesting places to visit - I hope you have enjoyed exploring the longest fjord of Iceland with me :)
Directions to Grundarkirkja: Grundarkirkja church is located some 403 km away from Reykjavík, Iceland's capital city, and some 24 km south of Akureyri, the capital of North-Iceland, on road 829.
You can either rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up north to visit the beautiful churches in Eyjafjörður fjord. Or fly up to Akureyri and rent a car up north. Guide to Iceland has also put together many versions of self-drive tours which include accommodation, car and a detailed itinerary.
Once up north check out the many interesting tours by Saga Travel in Akureyri. I have joined several of them as they can take you to some extraordinary places which are not otherwise accessible, like Gjástykki lava field and Lofthellir lava cave.