The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Iceland is dotted with lovely little country churches and there are all in all approximately 380 churches in Iceland, big and small.

Some of them belong to the farmer and some are in the possession and care of Þjóðminjasafnið - the National Museum of Iceland.

Top photo: Tungufellskirkja church

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Inside Tungufellskirkja church

In this travel-blog I am going to show you one of the smallest churches in Iceland, Tungufellskirkja church upcountry in South Iceland, which is in the possession of Þjóðminjasafnið - the National Museum of Iceland.

I visit all the churches I see on my travels in Iceland and sometimes go out of my way to visit a country church. These churches are little gems to me and I have visited close to 94% of the Icelandic churches.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Inside Tungufellskirkja

I had been eager to see the church bells in Tungufellskirkja, which date back to around 1200, making them amongst the oldest church bells of this kind in the Nordic countries.

Icelandic churches are locked, but when I was reading up on Tungufellskirkja church I saw that the farmers offer a guided tour of the church.

So I contacted Elín Jóna Traustadóttir the farmer at Tungufell, the innermost farm in Hrunamannahreppur upcountry in South Iceland, and booked guidance of the small church at Tungufell for a small fee. 

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandTungufellsfaldbúningurinn national costume

What I didn't know is that for guided tours Elín Jóna puts a mannequin inside the church, dressed in the national costume, faldbúningur, which Elín Jóna herself had made.

So I got quite startled when I had a peek inside the church when my husband went to notify Elín that we had arrived :)

I felt like I had stepped back in time, which was quite lovely.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Inside the small Tungufellskirkja church

Tungufellskirkja church is very small, only 22 sq.m., and seats 30. It is one of Iceland's smallest churches but not the smallest church in Iceland, as Núpsstaðakirkja turf church is smaller.

Tungufellskirkja church was built in 1856-1857 by Sigfús Guðmundsson and has been in the possession of the National Museum of Iceland since 1987. It is a timber church with no spire.

The oldest timber church in South Iceland is Búrfellskirkja church, built in 1845, and the second oldest timber church in South Iceland is Mosfellskirkja, built in 1848, so together with these churches, Tungufellskirkja church is amongst the oldest timber churches in South Iceland.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandAn old candleholder from 1871 is mounted on the wall by the pulpit

The first mention of a church at Tungufell farm is from the church register of Bishop Páll Jónsson at Skálholt episcopal see around 1200, but older churches at Tungufell were made of turf.

If you have read my travel-blog about Skálholt cathedral, which is relatively close to Tungufell farm, then you might remember that the stone sarcophagus of Bishop Páll Jónsson is on display in the crypt. And his walrus tusk crosier is on display at the National Museum of Iceland.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

An old hymn board inside the church

The interior of the Tungufellskirkja church is simple but beautiful.

The pulpit was made and painted by Ófeigur Jónsson most likely originally made for a turf church that was erected in 1831. As was the altar and other artifacts in the church. 

You will notice an old wooden box in the church, most likely also made by Ófeigur for the old church in 1831. The old hymn board in Tungufellskirkja church might date back to that time as well.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandThe old altarpiece in Tungufellskirkja church

The altarpiece was painted by Brynjólfur Þórðarson in 1915 and is a replica of an altarpiece in St. Nikolai church in Holbæk, Denmark 

Matthías Þórðarson, director of the National Museum, donated the altarpiece to the Tungufellskirkja church when the old enamel altar cross, often referred to as Tungufellskrossinn, came into the possession of the National Museum.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The beautiful altarpiece in Tungufellskirkja church

You can find this beautiful altar cross on display at the National Museum.

Tungufellskrossinn - the Crucifix of Tungufell

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandValþjófsstaðaskrínið and Tungufellskrossinn at the National Museum of Iceland

In Tungufellskirkja church you will notice a photo of a cross mounted on the wall on the right side of the altar.

This old enameled altar crucifix, Tungufellskrossinn, was in Tungufellskirkja church until 1915 when it was donated to the National museum.

It was most likely made in Limoges in France around 1180-1220, but Limoges was back then the center of enameling in West Europe.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandTungufellskrossinn - it is difficult to photograph it as it is behind glass

The crucifix was at one time also in Skálholtskirkja cathedral and the small but beautiful Mosfellskirkja church in Grímsnes. 

To the left of Christ on the 52 cm cross is the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John to the right. Below the feet of Christ is Adam coming out of his grave. Angles decorate the cross on top and the lower part of the cross.

You will see more photos of the cross at Sarpur - Tungufellskrossinn

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandA photo of the old crucifix hangs on the wall in the church

To the right above my head in my photo below, you can see a photo of the old enamel cross which was last in Tungufellskirkja. 

Tungufellskrossinn was in a bad shape and parts of it were removed from the cross and put into a frame and made into an altarpiece. When Matthías Þórðarson, the Director of the National Museum, bought the cross back in 1915, he had the parts refastened to a wooden cross, but the old cross is lost.

If you look at the photos of the cross in Sarpur you will notice that it looks totally different on the rear side. That is because not all the pieces from the old cross were saved.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

A photo of the Tungufellskross crucifix hangs on the wall of Tungufellskirkja

I visited the National Museum to see the Tungufellskrossinn altar cross but saw that it was wrongly marked as Draflastaðakrossinn crucifix, so I sent them a message.

I got no reply and nothing happened for months, so I pointed this error out to one of the employees at the museum during one of my visits to the museum.

The information is right in Sarpur - Tungufellskrossinn, apart from the information on "spjaldtexti" the display text, which is the information at the museum itself in Icelandic.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Tungufellskrossinn

There are only two crosses like this left, Tungufellskrossinn and Draflastaðakrossinn from Draflastaðir in Fnjóskadalur valley up north. I have written another travel-blog about the beautiful Fnjóskadalur valley:

A Visit to Fnjóskadalur Valley 

I love visiting the National Museum and seek out artifacts, which I can link to my travel-blogs. Thus I can learn more about the myriad of artifacts at the museum and also give you an opportunity to see the beautiful old artifacts, which we have on display. 

The oldest bells in a church in Iceland

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The Tungufellsklukkur church bells

Two of the oldest beehive copper church bells in the Nordic world are to be found in the small Tungufellskirkja church. They most likely date back to before the year 1200.

I find it amazing that such old church bells are found in a small country church upcountry in Iceland.

Here you can listen to the sound of the old church bells: Kirkjuklukkur - Tungufellskirkja.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandThe old church bell from Hálskirkja in Fnjóskadalur is on display at the National Museum

On display at the National Museum is another old church bell from Hálskirkja church in Fnjóskadalur. It is of the same beehive shape as the church bells in Tungufellskirkja and most likely dates back to the mid-12th century.

Tungfufellsfaldbúningurinn national dress

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Tungufellsfaldbúningurinn national dress

Elín Jóna, who lives at Tungufell, told us the history of the church and showed us this beautiful national dress, faldbúningur, which she made with patterns from the church.

For guided tours, Elín Jóna brings her national costume to the church as I told you earlier.

The guidance is around ISK 1,000 per person and was well worth it as usually my husband and I visit the churches alone.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandWith Elín Jóna, the creator of the faldbúningur national dress

He has the role of knocking on the door of the farmer and asking for the key and I take the photos and write about the places.

We love it if the farmer has got time to spare to tell us about the church, but that is not often the case as they are busy with their farm work.

So it was a special treat being guided around by the knowledgeable Elín Jóna :)

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The Icelandic faldbúningur is made with patterns from the Tungufellskirkja church

Elín Jóna guided us for half an hour and told us all about the faldbúningur which she made from 2013-2017 using old patterns from the church.

It was Jóna's idea to use the patterns in the old woodwork at Tungufellskirkja church, for her national costume. Which makes this faldbúningur one of a kind.

Notice how the pattern in the belt matches the pattern in the altar, and the pattern in the bodice matches the pattern around the altarpiece.
The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Beautiful embroidery

Patterns from the altar are embroidered in the skirt of the Tungufells faldbúningur. 

No two flowers painted on the altar and the frame are the same, they are all unique.

The national costume faldbúningur is an older type of national costume. It was worn by Icelandic women from around the 17th century until the mid-19th century. 

The older type of faldbúningur from the 17th and 18th centuries was colourful, but the latter type from around 1800, was darker and not as colourful. Faldbúningur was later replaced by skautbúningur.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The flower pattern on one side of the altar

As I told you earlier then the pulpit and the altar and the frame around the altarpiece were made and painted by Ófeigur Jónsson, for an older turf church built in 1831.

And now these old patterns have been embroidered into a loverly national costume. What a beautiful tribute to Ófeigur.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Beautiful decorations on the Tungufells faldbúningur

When you come outside again you will notice the thin iron cross on top of the towerless Tungufellskirkja church. It was made around 1913 by Jón Árnason from Eyrarbakki village in South Iceland.

Jón Árnason also made the thin church iron gate. Both the cross and the gate are quite unpretentious, yet so very lovely. 

There is only one service a year held at Tungufellskirkja church - in the summertime and I noticed on Facebook that one service was held in December 2022.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandTungufellskirkja church

Tungufellskirkja church is farthest away from the sea of Iceland's churches, 58 km from Hvalfjörður bay. One would think that it was closer to the sea in the south, but not the west, so this came as a surprise to me.

By Tungufellskirkja church is an information sign erected by the National Museum of Iceland. If you see such a sign with this symbol in my photo below when you are travelling around Iceland, then you will know that the church, or turf house for that matter is in the possession of the National Museum.

On the website of Þjóðminjasafnið - the National Museum of Iceland, you can see a map of all the museums and historic sites in the possession of the National Museum around Iceland.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

The information sign from our National museum

We drove further into the valley which is off the beaten path and picked blueberries. It was wonderful being alone in nature, knowing that there were crowds on the other side of the glacial river.

If you drive even further on you will be able to visit Iceland's best-known waterfall, Gullfoss itself, from the opposite side of the Hvítá river.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandThe upper cascade of Gullfoss waterfall as seen from the east bank of the Hvítá river

If you visit Gullfoss from the east bank be very careful as there are no railings, just pure nature.

The Majestic Gullfoss - Iceland's Golden Waterfall, which gives a Name to the Golden Circle

Even though we are off the beaten path here, then on the opposite side of the glacial river is one of the busiest roads in Iceland as there you are on the Golden Circle route.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandVisiting Gullfoss waterfall alone on the east bank of the Hvítá river

The Golden Circle is the most popular day tour in Iceland - it includes Þingvellir national park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss waterfall.

Brúarhlöð

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Brúarhlöð

On your way to Tungufell or back for that matter, you will cross Hvítá glacial river, a couple of km below Gullfoss waterfall.

By the bridge, which is the 3rd bridge built over the river (the 2 others were washed away in 1929 and 1930 by the sheer force of the river during a flood), you will see the amazing Brúarhlöð rock formations.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South Iceland

Brúarhlöð

Here the glacial river Hvítá runs through Brúarhlöð gorge and has created quite a magical sight, as it has sculpted the sediment Breccia (þursaberg) in unusual shapes.

You can park your car in a parking lot by the gorge and walk down to the river, where you will have an amazing view of this beautiful gorge.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandLooking at the Brúarhlöð gorge from above

Or follow a small path and walk alongside the gorge and have a look at it from above.

River rafting is popular here on the Hvítá river and people on the tour get a chance to jump into the river in a wetsuit.

You can see the milky white colour of the river which indicates that its origins are in a glacier.

This glacial water comes straight from the Langjökull glacier, Iceland's second largest glacier, so it is ice-cold.

The tiny Tungufellskirkja Church and the Tungufellskross Crucifix upcountry in South IcelandBrúarhlöð

I have written another travel-blog about the Langjökull glacier:

Langjökull Ice Cave Tunnel and the Beautiful Whale Fjord in West-Iceland

Here you can see the location of Tungufellskirkja church on Google maps.

Have a lovely time in Iceland - there are myriad things to see and do in this area :)

Ref.:

Kirkjur Ísland volume I

Gengið í Guðshús

Tungufells faldbúningurinn - Elín Jóna Traustadóttir

Hundrað ár í Þjóðminjasafni - Kristján Eldjárn

Sarpur.is