Grafarkirkja turf church - the Chapel at Gröf in Höfðaströnd in North-Iceland - is Iceland's oldest turf church. Parts of the current turf church date back to the 17th century. Back in the olden days, Icelanders used to live in turf houses and the churches were made of turf. Now only a handful of turf churches remain in Iceland.
The oldest account on Grafarkirkja is from around 1240 and can be found in Sturlunga Saga, which is a collection of Icelandic Sagas from the 12th and 13th centuries.
There is a weather-vane on top of the church with the letters 167_ with the last symbol missing.
Grafarkirkja church is now closed to the public for its preservation.
Grafarkirkja turf church is the only church in Iceland with a circular turf-wall around the graveyard and the church, but such a circular form is an ancient form in Iceland.
A circular graveyard like this one, a little bit bigger though, can also be seen at Geirsstaðakirkja turf church in East-Iceland, but that church is a hypothesis church of an ancient turf church found in an archaeological dig.
Probably most churches in Iceland were similar to the Grafarkirkja turf church in olden times. It must have been such a lovely sight, seeing all these little turf churches all around Iceland!
It is hard to believe when visiting this beautiful little church now that it was deconsecrated in 1775 by a royal order from the King, and used as a storeroom by the farmers at Gröf.
Almost 2 centuries passed until the turf church was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Iceland in 1953 after being totally rebuilt in its original form by Þjóðminjasafn Íslands - the National Museum of Iceland. Again repairs were carried out in 2011.
It is believed that the Bishop of Hólar Gísli Þorláksson (1631-1684) had Grafarkirkja built, but there is not enough evidence though to confirm it. Gísli owned the land Gröf in the late 17th century.
This turf church is by far the oldest looking of the 6 remaining turf-churches in Iceland. It is, in fact, the only remaining so-called stave church in Iceland. It is made from timber and turf.
The old baroque style altar has been replaced. I remember seeing a different baroque style altar with wood carvings on my previous visits.
The church has been closed now to visitors, due to increased traffic. These little gems cannot withstand too much traffic so we must preserve them the best we can. My photos of the inside of the church are taken some years ago when it was still open.
Our beloved clergyman, poem and hymnist Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674), was most likely born at the farm Gröf, but he grew up at Hólar in Hjaltadalur. Grafarkirkja belonged to Hólar in Hjaltadalur and after the Reformation, the land Gröf became the property of the bishops at Hólar and their families.
Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir (1646–1715) inherited Gröf from her husband Gísli Þorláksson, bishop at Hólar from 1657-1684. Gísli Þorláksson most likely had the Grafarkirkja built.
Ragnheiður got permission from the King to have mass in Grafarkirkja every third holy day. In 1696 Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir married another bishop at Hólar, Einar Þorsteinsson.
Einar died shortly after and Ragnheiður, now twice a widow, moved back to Gröf and lived there until she died in 1715. Ragnheiður had no children of her own, but she had fostered two of her nieces, who inherited Gröf. After Ragnheiður's death, the heyday of Grafarkirkja regressed until the church was deconsecrated in 1775.
Grafarkirkja turf church looks like a jewel in the surrounding landscape. If you have a look at my photo above you will see a gallant mountain in the backdrop which complements the church - or the church complements the mountain - it is just perfect and one of my favourite photos :)
When I leave this beautiful turf church I cannot stop looking back at it - and I feel like I am looking back in time, it is so moving somehow. A path leads to the church and it takes only some 5 minutes to reach the church from the parking lot.
I adore these beautiful turf churches and am so glad that some of them have been preserved as historical monuments. Let's respect them as such and tread lightly when visiting them. These turf churches and turf houses left in Iceland are so delicate that they cannot withstand too much traffic.
See also my travel-blog about the historical Hólar in Hjaltadalur valley.
Here is the location of Grafarkirkja church on the map. GPS: 65°52'10.7"N 19°22'05.9"W. This little turf church is now closed to the public for its preservation, but you can have a look at it from the outside.
If you want to have a look at more turf houses in Iceland then I have written a long travel-blog about the remaining turf houses:
Have a lovely time in North-Iceland :)