The holy Mt. Helgafell and the three wishes
The historical Mt. Helgafell - the Sacred Hill - on the Snæfellsnes peninsula is in the eyes of us Icelanders a sacred place. It is believed that if you hike to the top of the mountain without looking back or uttering a word you will get 3 wishes fulfilled.
This only works the first time you hike the mountain though, so most Icelanders have already done this hike and got their wishes. Mt. Helgafell is ca 73 metre's tall and it takes about 10-15 minutes to hike to the top. From there you will be rewarded with a great view of the Breiðafjörður bay and the surrounding areas.
I found it so lovely to read one comment to my blog, when we posted it on the Facebook page of Guide to Iceland. There Sarah Braun told us what happened when she made a wish on top of Mt. Helgafell: "We were there on the 4th of October 2016. My wish was a marriage proposal. On the same night, my boyfriend proposed to me under the northern lights". :)
Mt. Helgafell is mentioned in Landnáma - the Book of Settlement, which is the oldest written source on the settlement of Iceland. Mt. Helgafell was considered highly sacred even in early heathen times. Here was an Augustinian monastery, which was a well known seat of learning, from 1184 until the Reformation in 1550 when it was burnt down. This monastery was moved from Flatey island to Helgafell.
There has been a church here since the adoption of Christianity in Iceland in year 1000. The current church beneath Mt. Helgafell was built in 1903.
Eyrbyggja Saga, which is one of the Icelandic Sagas, takes places in West-Iceland and tells us that Þorsteinn þorskabítur, the son of the settler Þórólfur mostraskegg, lived at Helgafell. Þorsteinn divorced his wife and moved away and the noted Snorri goði Þorgrímsson moved to Helgafell and erected a church there.
When Snorri goði grew old he switched properties with Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir (973 AD) from Sælingsdalur, which is relatively close by.
Guðrún was one of the best known characters in the Icelandic Sagas, but Guðrún's story is told in the Laxdæla Saga.
I have written a blog on Guðrún in Guðrúnarlaug hot tub. Guðrún moved to Helgafell in 1008 and lived here for the rest of her life. You can see what we Icelanders like to consider her grave north of the church. The grave turns towards the church according to Irish tradition.
It is almost startling seeing 1008 written on the gravestone and sitting by the grave makes me feel closely connected to my heritage. The gravestone is made out of rock from the sacred Mt. Helgafell and was put up in 1979. I read Laxdæla Saga when I was in college and recommend it if you want to read an Icelandic Saga.
It tells the story of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, Bolli Þorleiksson and Kjartan Ólafsson, which made up the best-known love-triangle in the Icelandic Sagas. Guðrún was married 4 times in her lifetime, but later became a nun at Helgafell and lived there to an old age. She moved to Helgafell two years after Bolli, her husband, got killed.
The hike on Mt. Helgafell can either start from her grave outside of the church yard, or on the west side of the mountain. Traditionally though the hike should start by the grave after you walk around it 3 times anticlockwise, but seeing that you would have to pass by the farm at Helgafell, then it is going to disturb the farmer, as a lot of visitors hike up on top.
The farmer thus directs visitors to the hike on the west side of his farm. This is controversial, but this is the home and workplace of the farmer and his family, so their wishes should be respected, even though this is one of the historical places on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
When you reach the top you should go to the ruins of a prayer chapel on top of the mountain, look east and think about the wishes (which shall all be of positive nature) and don't tell anybody what you wished for.
We don't know for certain if this old stacked wall on top of Mt. Helgafell is a prayer chapel or something else, but it is believed to have been a part of the old monastery and thus dates back to 1184. As such it should not be touched.
You will find a view-dial (hringsjá) on top of Mt. Helgafell, erected in 1977. The Rotary Club of nearby Stykkishólmur had it made in the memory of Guðmundur Guðjónsson from Saurar. It is one of the view-dials designed by the instigator of view-dials in Iceland, the noted Jón J. Víðis, who was my husband's great-uncle and namesake. Jón designed all in all 23 view-dials.
After his time Jakob Hálfdanarson, my father-in-law, has been the main designer of view-dials in Iceland.
I visit all the view-dials I can get to on my travels in Iceland and photograph them, as they are of great interest to me. I hope you appreciate my effort in introducing them to you. I will not be able to visit the view-dials located on mountain tops though, as my forte does not lie in hiking up mountains, unless up small mountains like Mt. Helgafell ;)
This view-dial shows the names of all the mountains in the surrounding area. It says on the view-dial that the mountain is 78 meters above sea level.
The view from the top of Mt. Helgafell is beautiful in all directions, extraordinary really. In the north direction you will see Stykkishólmur town and the innumerable islands on Breiðafjörður bay, but these islands are on the list of 3 innumerable things in Iceland.
On Mt. Helgafell no man nor animal should be killed and the settlers believed that they would go into the mountain after their death. Let's respect this sacred place and not dislocate rocks or leave anything behind. One never knows what repercussions it can have, whether we believe in it or not!
Now, let's return back to the car. Since I have hiked up on top of Mt. Helgafell so many times, then I have hiked on both sides of the mountain. Hiking up on the west side is the same and I would advice you to take that path.
It is only for my love of the Icelandic Sagas that I hike up from Guðrún's grave, but hiking up on the west side does not disturb the farmers at Helgafell, as then you don't have to pass their farm. I have also heard that the path from Guðrún's grave has been closed off now.
Now, due to an increase in visitors to Iceland, the farmers at Helgafell are asking visitors, 12 years and older, to pay ISK 400 to visit Mt. Helgafell. The farmers received a grant from Framkvæmdasjóður ferðamannastaða in 2014 to repair the damages already done to Helgafell by the myriad of visitors, but were denied a grant in 2015 and 2016 to finish this task.
They have to maintain the trails, the parking lot and WC-facilities and also plan to have an employee supervising Helgafell, as an estimated 300 visitors visit Helgafell every day in summer time.
The farmer are constantly adding sand to the trails, picking up trash which has been left behind! - and maintaining this very historical spot. I support them in charging visitors this small maintenance fee and feel badly knowing that visitors were even barging into their home to use their WC! It is not easy to have a farm on such a historical site.
It pains me too see such a sacred place like Mt. Helgafell being disrespected. Let's join hands and respect the nature and historical places in lovely Iceland and never leave trash behind in nature, build stone piles or dislocate rocks.
Helgafell and the Giantess
On Hvítbjarnarey island (Polar bear island) in nearby Breiðafjörður there is a boulder in a rift in the rocks. It is of different material than the other rocks on the island and the origin of this particular boulder is explained in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which I often refer to in my blogs:
"Several stories exist of the giantess, who lived in Helgafellssveit region or in the mountains around there, first at Helgafell, but as a church was erected at Helgafell, the giantess moved to Mt. Kerlingarfjall. Following are three of these stories of the giantess.
Hvítabjarnareyja island (Polar bear island) is one of the islands above Stykkishólmur in Breiðafjörður. It was named after a polar bear, which came ashore on the island and lay to rest on a stall on the southern part of the island, which is surrounded by tall cliffs.
A giantess was on the mainland, people say that she lived at Helgafell before Christianity was adopted in Iceland and a church was erected at Helgafell, but trolls are no fans of Christianity and churches. And they especially don't like hearing church bells ringing.
The giantess noticed that the polar bear was on the aforementioned stall on the island and thus she walked on top of Þingvallaborg, which is opposite the island from the mainland, and threw a huge boulder over to the island to kill the polar bear. But as fate has it the boulder landed higher up than she intended and landed on the cliff tops, which are above and to both sides of the stall. The boulder still lies above the stall, but the polar bear didn't get hurt.
Another account from this region in the west is that the giantess who lived in Mt. Kerlingarfjall, noticed that a man had gone fishing on a boat on Hrappseyjarsund strait, between Hrappsey island and Stykkishólmur. The Giantess had a grudge against this man, the reason why is not mentioned in the account, and threw a huge rock towards the man sitting in his boat, but that rock landed in Hvítabjarnarey island and can still be seen there, but the giantess failed to kill the man.
Close to Nesvogur by Stykkishólmur one can find 3 little hummocks, which are believed to have been thrown there by the giantess in Kerlingarskarð cleft, but she meant to destroy the church at Helgafell with these hummocks".
(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
I have also heard that the boulder is said to have been thrown there by the giantess, who used to live at Mt. Helgafel,l as she wanted to destroy the church at Mt. Helgafell by throwing the bolder at it, but she missed and the boulder landed here on this island.
Here you can see the location of Mt. Helgafell and the church on the map.
Stykkishólmur, the capital of the West, is very close to Mt. Helgafell, and there you will find hotels, restaurants and cafés, shops and supermarkets and interesting museums and galleries.
You can either rent a car in Reykjavík, go on a self drive summer tour, a self drive winter tour, or join one of the myriad of guided tours to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. There is a great selection of guided tours to Snæfellsnes: Snæfellsnes Peninsula Super Jeep Tour | Stykkishólmur, Mt Kirkjufell, Snæfellsjökull Glacier, and the most popular tours of Snæfellsnes.
I have written a detailed guide in 5 parts of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in chronological order, if you want to drive there yourself and prepare for the journey.