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Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
The majestic Grenjaðarstaður Turf House in North-Iceland and my Ancestors
The majestic Grenjaðarstaður Turf House in North-Iceland and my Ancestors

The majestic Grenjaðarstaður Turf House in North-Iceland and my Ancestors

Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland and Regína

I am a big fan of the traditional turf houses in Iceland and my favourite Icelandic turf house is to be found in North-Iceland, called Grenjaðarstaður turf house.

The turf houses in Iceland are in my opinion so typical for Iceland. I love visiting them and always seek them out on my travels in my country. Grenjaðarstaður turf house is located in North-Iceland, between Mývatn and Húsavík - the Whale Watching capital of Iceland.

I visit Grenjaðarstaður every year and you will see why if you read a little bit further on in my travel-blog :)Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaður turf house

There was a homestead here at Grenjaðarstaður from the early settlement of Iceland over a thousand years ago. Grenjaður Hrappsson settled this area and lived at Grenjaðarstaður, which is named after him. Many ancient place names in Iceland can be traced to the settlers.

The present turf house dates back to the 19th century, and the oldest parts of it date back to 1876. The majestic turf house at Grenjaðarstaður was the largest manor in this county, 775 sq.m!

Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaður turf house

This building material, turf or sod, was used as it was cheap and convenient. It insulated the houses and kept the cold out. The outwalls of Grenjaðarstaður are made from doubly stacked lava, of which there is plenty in this area, and no turf is used in the outwalls of this turf house. Lava was the building material in the areas of Iceland, where there is volcanic activity. 

If you visit more turf houses in Iceland you will see that they are not all built in the same way. In other parts of Iceland where turf was easily available, the turf was used for the walls of the turf houses. Thus the turf houses don't all look the same in Iceland. 

Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaður turf house 

Rev. Benedikt Kristjánsson (1840-1915), my great-great-grandfather, became a minister at Grenjaðarstaður in 1876. He restored Grenjaðastaður completely in 1892-1894, apart from the door to the east and the northern parlor.

Benedikt had a big family, domestics and many old people were living at Grenjaðarstaður as well.

In 1880 for example 28 people were living at Grenjaðarstaður: Benedikt and his wife Regína, their 7 children aged 1-9, the former minister of Grenjaðarstaður Magnús Jónsson, Helga, the widow of Jón, who was another former minister of Grenjaðarstaður, Sigurlaug who was the mother of Rev. Benedikt, 5 male farmhands, 8 female farmhands, 1 "húskona" and her son, and 1 pauper (niðursetningur)

Benedikt Kristjánsson minister at Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church

My great-great-grandfather Benedikt

Benedikt Kristjánsson was the minister at Grenjaðarstaður from 1876-1907 - and then managed Grenjaðarstaður until 1911 (ref. Íslendingabók). When you visit Grenjaðarstaður turf house you will see the photos of my great-great-grandparents hanging on the wall in the first room you enter to the left.

There the photo of Rev. Benedikt is mounted on the wall between his two wives; Regína on his left-hand side, and his second wife, Ásta on his right-hand side.A photo of Regína Sívertsen at Grenjaðarstaðir turf house North Iceland

My great-great-grandmother Regína Magdalena

Benedikt's wife, Regína Magdalena Sívertsen (1847-1884), my great-great-grandmother, is buried in the graveyard by the church at Grenjaðarstaður along with 4 of her small children and her mother-in-law, my great-great-great-grandmother Sigurlaug.

I have been told that Regína most likely died of a broken heart after the loss of 4 of her small children to complications following the measles in 1882. From late July until the beginning of December 1882, my great-great-grandparents had lost half of their children: Kristján (6), Gunnar (3.5), Ingibjörg (2), and Rannveig (8 months old) :(

Regína by Regína's grave at Grenjaðarstaður back in 1969

Visiting Regína's grave with my family back in 1969

My great-grandfather, Bjarni, who was 5 years old at the time this tragedy struck my ancestors, lived a long life and had 15 children of his own.

Regína also got measles and was pregnant with her 9th child at the time, a girl born on the 1st of March 1883, Kristjana Ingibjörg, who fortunately lived a long life. But my great-great-grandmother wasted away, got consumption, and died a year and a half later, in 1884.

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja in North-Iceland in stormy weaher

Grenjaðarstaður and Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church in the dusk

On top of this tragedy, the weather was horrible in 1882 and this period from 1881 has been called "Frostaveturinn mikli" - or the Winter of the great Frost, with drift-ice closing the harbours, and snowstorm raging until mid-June, and storms blocking the sun from the 4th of August until the 29th of August! (Icelanders had another winter like this also called "Frostaveturinn mikli" in 1918).

The crop failed and the situation in Iceland was so grave that friends of Iceland in Denmark, Norway, Germany, and England collected money for grain which was then shipped to Iceland.

Grenjaðarstaður turf house

Grenjaðarstaður turf house 

Benedikt was so devastated that he wanted to give up his ministry at Grenjaðarstaður, and he was so grief-stricken that he said he had lost his faith in God. And who can blame him :( 

Rev. Benedikts faith was restored by a religious experience he had when he was riding back to Grenjaðarstaður from Húsavík and got stuck in the river. His son Bjarni (my great-grandfather) woke up from his sleep believing that his father was calling him. He searched for his father but didn't find him. So he went outside and saw his father's horse standing by the river.

He ran to the river and saw his father stuck in the river and was able to get help from a nearby farm. There was no way that my great-grandfather could have heard his father calling from this distance.

By the grave of Regína Sívertsen Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church

By my great-great-grandmother's Regína's grave where she is buried with her 4 children and her mother-in-law, Sigurlaug (died in 1901)

Benedikt remarried and had 7 children with his second wife Ólöf Ásta Þórarinsdóttir.

I am named after my great-great-grandmother Regína and when I travel in this area I always go visit her grave and tell her the latest news of her descendants in the SW-corner of Iceland. 

Her grave is located 454 km away from my home in Reykjavík, so it is a bit far for me to visit her grave, but seeing that my husband's family owns a summer cottage at Mývatn, then we visit this area every year.A grave stone with runes in Grenjaðarstaður cemeery

A gravestone with runes 

In some of the photos I am wearing the national costume upphluturwhich I was wearing for the 140th anniversary of the annex church from Grenaðarstaður, Þverá church in Laxárdalur in the vicinity of Grenjaðarstaður.

In the graveyard next to Regína's grave you will find a gravestone with runes from the 15th century.

On it is written: "Hér hvílir Sigríð Hrafnsdótter kvinna Bjarnar bónda Sæmundssonar. Guð fríðe hennar sál til góðrar vonar. Hver er letrið les, bið fyrir blíðre sál og synge signað vers" - translated into English: "Here rests Sigríð Hrafnsdóttir, the wife of Bjarni Sæmundsson. May God rest her soul. Whoever reads this, please say a prayer for her gentle soul and say a holy hymn".

Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaður turf house 

In 1915 there were 15 people living at Grenjaðarstaður according to the census. Four ministers lived at the manor and there were people living here until 1948. The National Museum took over the manor, restored it from 1955-1958 in the liking of its original state, and opened up a district museum at Grenjaðarstaður.

The rooms are kept pretty much like they were when people used to live at Grenjaðarstaður. For me, it is a delight visiting this old manor seeing how my great-great-grandparents lived. 

Inside Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Inside Grenjaðarstaður turf house 

The rooms are full of old items from the district. When Grenjaðarstaður was turned into a museum in 1958 the locals from this district donated over thousand objects to the museum. I especially like the kitchen, seeing all these old lovely plates and old kitchen utensils. 

Visiting the museum at Grenjaðarstaður gives great insight into the ways the more affluent people lived in the 19th century in North-Iceland, even though this mansion was much larger than the usual turf houses. 

The floors of Grenjaðarstaður are wooden, but one room has got beaten dirt floors. I have seen these dirt floors in other turf houses and they are very comfortable to walk on.

Inside Grenjaðarstaður turf house North Iceland

Inside Grenjaðarstaður turf house 

Grenjaðarstaður turf house is owned by the National Museum of Iceland and run by the district museum of this area. It is open daily from 1st of June - 31st of August from 10-18.

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja churchGrenjaðarstaðarkirkja church North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church

Opposite Grenjaðarstaður in Aðaldalur you will find a lovely preserved church, Grenjaðarstaðakirkja. The current church was erected in 1865 by Rev. Magnús Jónsson, but earlier there were Catholic turf churches here dedicated to Bishop Martein from Tours in France.

The altarpiece in Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church, which was donated by a minister of the church, dates back to 1865. Belonging to the church is also a chalice from 1870 and two old copper candlesticks.

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church

The year 1797 is painted on the pulpit and the initials of Tómas Skúlason, who was the minister of the church back in 1785-1808.

The church bells in the bell canopy in front of the church are also old by Icelandic standard, dating back to 1663 (the bigger one) and 1740 (the smaller one).

Grenjaðarstaðakirkja church North Iceland

Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church

Benedikt's and Regína's son and my great-grandfather, Bjarni Benediktsson (1877-1964), married my great-grandmother, Þórdís Ásgeirsdóttir (1889-1965) from West-Iceland, and moved to nearby Húsavík, where they had 15 children, including my grandmother.

Which makes me 1/4 Húsvíkingur as the locals of Húsavík are called.

Regína by Grenjaðarstaðarkirkja church lychgate and Regína North Iceland

At the lychgate of Grenjaðarstaðakirkja church

My husband took some photos of me wearing the national costume, as we both thought that it would be nice for my travel-blog. It is not often that I get the opportunity to dress up in upphlutur so why not make the most of it.

This is the national costume of Björg, the nanny of my great-grandparent's children and I am very grateful that my extended family trusted me with it, and wear it with pride :)

Bjarnahús at Húsavík North Iceland

Húsavíkurkirkja church is right next to Bjarnahús

Bjarni and Þórdís lived in Bjarnahús, the house next to the beautiful church Húsavíkurkirkja, which is the landmark of Húsavík. Bjarnahús is now the congregation hall for the church and on the wall, you will see paintings of my great-grandparents. Þórdís, my great-grandmother is wearing the national costume peysuföt.

I have written a travel-blog about Húsavík - the Whale Watching Capital in Iceland where I have added more photos and information about my ancestors. Both these places, Grenjaðarstaður and Húsavík are very close to my heart, so this travel-blog has turned into a blog about my ancestry.Þórdís and Bjarni the first owners of Bjarnahús North Iceland

My great-grandparents, Þórdís and Bjarni, the first owners of Bjarnahús

But by now I have written 280 travel-blogs about different locations in Iceland so maybe it is fitting to dedicate a couple of my travel-blogs to my ancestors who lived in the places I am showing you, and I hope that you, who read my travel-blog appreciate it. 

My roots are also at Ingjaldssandur in the Westfjords of Iceland and in Grundarfjörður in West-Iceland, you may know it as the fjord with the most-photographed mountain in Iceland, Mt. Kirkjufell

The majestic Grenjaðarstaður Turf House in North-Iceland and my Ancestors

Don't miss visiting a turf house while in Iceland. I am so fond of them that I seek them out on my travels. I have added travel-blogs about all the turf houses in Iceland now.

The last link in my list of turf houses in Iceland is a very long travel-blog on all the turf houses I have visited in Iceland:

Laufás turf house in North-Iceland

Þverá turf house in North-Iceland

Glaumbær turf house in North-Iceland

Bustarfell turf house in East-Iceland

Sænautasel turf house in East-Iceland

Keldur turf house in South-Iceland

Tyrfingsstaðir Turf House in North-Iceland

A List of the beautiful Icelandic Turf Houses, which I have visited on my Travels in Iceland

Grenjaðarstaður is located at 65° 49,252'N, 17° 21,057'W.

The turf houses closest to Grenjaðarstaður are at Þverá and Grænavatn in Mývatn. The turf houses are delicate though so they cannot withstand too much traffic.

You can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up north on your own to visit Grenjaðarstaður and Húsavík. 

Have a lovely time at Grenjaðarstaður :)