Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

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.

There is a weather-vane on top of the church with the letters 167_ with the last symbol missing.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

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 remake of an ancient turf church.

Probably most churches in Iceland were similar to Grafarkirkja turf church in olden times. It must have been such a lovely sight, seeing all these little turf churches all around Iceland!

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in 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 in 1950. Again repairs were carried out in 2011.

Grafarkirkja is a part of the National Museum of Iceland's Historic Building Collection and has belonged to the museum since 1939.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

It is believed that the Bishop at 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. 

Grafarkirkja was most likely built by Guðmundur Guðmundsson from Bjarnastaðahlíð, but he was one of the best-known wood-workers in Iceland in the 17th century. The wooden roof trims on the church itself have got beautiful baroque style carvings made by Guðmundur.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

This turf church is by far the oldest looking of the 6 remaining turf-churches in Iceland. It is, in fact, the only remaining stave church in Iceland. It is made from timber and turf.

Take care as you enter the church as it is very small, I bump my head on the beam inside the church every time I visit it. People in the olden days were much smaller than we are now!

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

The altarpiece in Grafarkirkja is a reprint of the old baroque style altarpiece from 1680. The Crucifixion and the Last Supper are depicted on the central panel and on the side panels the Apostles Andrew and Thomas are depicted. 

The old baroque style altar has been replaced. I remember seeing a different baroque style altar with wood carvings on my previous visits.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

The land Gröf was once one of the main manors in Skagafjörður.

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.

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.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

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.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

Einar died shortly after and Ragnheiður, now twice a widowmoved 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 in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

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.

I have written travel-blogs on all the remaining turf churches in Iceland, f.ex. Víðimýrarkirkja and Saurbæjarkirkja turf churches in North-Iceland and Hofskirkja turf church in South-Iceland.

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.

Grafarkirkja Turf-Church in North-Iceland - the oldest Turf Church in Iceland

You can see the turf church from the road. There is a path leading to the church and a ca 5 minute's walk.

Grafarkirkja church is by road 76 ca 4 km south of the village of Hofsós in North-Iceland. If you want to visit this beautiful turf church then you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up north. When you see a sign on the right-hand side saying Gröf, take a right turn. The turf church will be visible from the road.  And as is written on the rock by Grafarkirkja then Hólar in Hjaltadalur is 22 km away.

Also check out this self-drive tour 9 day self-drive tour/Circle of Iceland and Snæfellsnes which has got all included, hotels, car and a detailed itinerary.

Here is the exact location of Grafarkirkja church on the map. GPS: 65°52'10.7"N 19°22'05.9"W

Have a lovely time in Iceland :)

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