Nonnahús museum is my favourite museum in Akureyri and a hidden gem in the capital city of North-Iceland. I have such fond memories of visiting this museum when I was a child, and I visit Nonnahús museum every time I travel up north to Akureyri :)
Nonnahús was the childhood home of Jón Sveinsson (1857-1944), who was called Nonni, but Icelandic men with the name Jón are often called Nonni or Jonni. Nonnahús is one of the oldest houses in Akureyri, built in 1850. It opened as a museum in 1957.
Nonni became a well-known writer of children's books and wrote 12 books on his life (I read all of his books as a child and most Icelanders of the older generation have read his books).
Nonni's father died when Nonni was only 11 years old, and his mother couldn't raise her 5 children alone. Nonni got the opportunity to go to a Catholic college in France in 1870 when a French nobleman offered to pay for the studies of 2 Icelandic boys. Nonni later became a Jesuit priest.
His brother, Ármann, called Manni, was sent to join Nonni in 1873. Unfortunately Manni died of consumption there only 24 years old. His brother, Manni, plays a big role in his books as well. One of the books is called "Nonni and Manni" and a TV series on Nonni and Manni was made in 1988.
Nonni wrote his books in German from 1913-1944 and his books have been translated into 40 languages. At the Nonnahús museum you will see his books in different languages on display. It is so awesome that different nations in the world love his books as much as we Icelanders do :)
Always an Icelander at heart Nonni only managed to return to Iceland on 2 occasions until he died in Cologne in 1944. There is a lovely German lady, Friederike, who takes care of Nonni's grave in Cologne and holds out a website the Nonni Fanclub in Germany, dedicated to Nonni and his work. I correspond with her from time to time and hold her in highest respect for keeping the memory of our beloved Nonni alive.
The museum is so lovely as it is like you have come to visit Nonni in his home as the rooms are preserved as they were when he lived there.
In the garden by Nonnahús you will see old Icelandic toys, which consisted of sheep-bones and horns and sticks and stones. Nonni and his brother Manni would have played with such toys. Times have changed, eh?
The Zontaclub ran the Nonnahús museum for 50 years - or from 1957-2007. Anna S. Snorradóttir was one of the founders of the first Zontaclub. She wanted to make a museum at Nonnahús, which had become very run down.
She went to the owners of the house and told them about her plans, that she wanted to buy the house and turn it into a museum, but that she had got no money. The owners of the house donated their house to the Zontaclub, how generous is that :)
Jón Sveinsson was made an Honorary Citizen of Akureyri in 1930.
The Statue of Nonni
There is a big statue of Nonni, 2,5 meters high, in front of Nonnahús museum. The statue was made by one of our female sculptors, Nína Sæmundsson, in 1957.The statue was located for a while in the old Borgarbókasafn, City Library in Reykjavík. Then it just disappeared.
Women from the Zontaclub of Akureyri heard of the statue and started looking for it. One of the Zontaclub's goals is to preserve the memory of Nonni, the Honorary Citizen of Akureyri.
After the statue was moved from the City Library in ca 1982 nobody knew where it was. The women in the Zontaclub tried in vain to find the statue. The decided on asking the nation for help. From 1970-1980 a lot of newspaper articles were published and finally after so many years the statue was found hidden away in a hay-loft.
The statue was found in the hay-loft of Korpúlsstaðir just 15 minutes away from where I live in Reykjavík. It was found in a box with the marking "head up" - and it was totally intact.
The Zontagroup received the Nonni statue as a present and decided on casting it in bronze. The statue was sent to Germany and inaugurated in 1994 where it got a place in front of Nonnahús museum.
I just love this statue and have my picture taken with it every time I visit Akureyri, so by now I have quite a collection of Nonni photos - the one I have added of me and Nonni is from 2017 :)
Nonnasteinn - the Nonni rock
Nonnasteinn rock is named after Jón Sveinsson, or Nonni as he was called. It is a big rock on Höfði above Nonnahús museum.
When Nonni was 11 years old, he was invited by a French count to go to France to study at a Catholic college. Nonni wanted to study and to see the world, but on the other hand he didn't want to part with his mother and siblings.
In his book "Nonni" he describes his emotions when he had to make this big decision. He stood on the slope above his home and while looking out at the ocean he saw a sail-boat. "I could not stop thinking about this little sail-boat. I sat on a rock, which stood out from the fragrant grass and let my feelings and thoughts loose. In my troubles and agony of my soul I sighed and gasped out: "Oh, dear God! What should I do?"
Nonni then went to Germany and later on he became a Jesuit priest and became known as Pater Jón Sveinsson.
A lovely drawing exists of Nonni sitting on this rock looking at the ocean. One can walk up to the Nonnasteinn rock or take the path from above the rock, next to the cemetery. There is a beautiful view of Akureyri from up there.
Möðruvellir - Nonni's birthplace
Nonni was born in 1857 at Möðruvellir in Hörgárdalur valley, between the towns Dalvík and Akureyri in Eyjafjörður fjord.
Möðruvellir is a historical place. There used to be an Augustinian monastery at Möðruvellir from 1296 until the Reformation in 1550. One of the most noteworthy libraries in Iceland was once located at Möðruvellir. And some of the greatest chieftains in the North of Iceland lived here at Möðruvellir in the Icelandic Saga period.
The church at Möðruvellir was once the largest church in Iceland. I love the blue ceiling of Möðruvallakirkja church. It has got ca 2000 stars made of plaster. If you get the opportunity to visit this area don't miss visiting this church.
Nonni's family moved to Akureyri town in 1865, when Nonni was 8 years old. Nonni's father died only 4 years later of hydatid disease.
There is a memorial grove at Möðruvellir in honour of Nonni. There you will find a big rock with Nonni's name on it and information in 4 languages on Nonni.
Nonni's ideal was to: "Give joy to others and strengthen their faith in all which is beautiful and good in this world" - it doesn't get better than that. You can listen to a report on Nonni in German on Radio Vadikan.
If you ever visit Eyjafjörður and its capital city, Akureyri, then do look for Nonnahús museum. It is so worth it. It is kind of hidden from view, so one has to really look for it. There is a lovely small old church by the museum and you will notice the large statue of Nonni by the street.
To visit North-Iceland you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up to Akureyri in one day - it is ca 388 km. Also check out self-drive tours, with accommodation, a car and a detailed itinerary included to make the most of your visit.