Biskupsbrekka - the Bishop's Hill and the Memorial Crosses for Bishop Jón Vídalín
In my last travel-blog I showed you a hike on Mt. Meyjarsæti and told you about the road leading from Þingvellir to West Iceland. Now I want to show you one stop on the way, Biskupsbrekka - Bishop's Hill.
Just before you reach the junction at Uxahryggir and Kaldidalur valley highland trail, you might, or might not, notice a couple of crosses by Biskupsbrekka hill on the Uxahryggjaleið route.
Top photo: the memorial crosses by Biskupsbrekka
One of the memorial crosses at Biskupsbrekka hill
Most travellers will not notice these crosses as they blend into the landscape if you don't know that they are there.
The reason for these crosses being erected there and the name of the hill, Biskupsbrekka - the Bishop's Hill, is that the Bishop of Skálholt, Jón Vídalín Þorsteinsson (1666-1720) travelled through here on the 30th of August 1720.
He was on his way to bury his brother-in-law, Rev. Þórður Jónsson (1672 - 21st of August 1720) at Staðarstaður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. Þórður was the brother of Jón's wife, Sigríður Jónsdóttir.
Here Jón Vídalín died on the 30th of August 1720
Jón and Þórður had made a promise to each other that when one of them would die the other one would bury him.
So it was Jón's duty to bury his brother-in-law and that is why he went on this journey. But as it turned out neither of them could fulfill their agreement, as Bishop Jón Vídalín died here by Biskupsbrekka hill.
Just imagine the heartbreak of Sigríður Jónsdóttir who lost her brother and her husband 9 days apart. Sigríður was the daughter of Bishop Jón Vigfússon at Hólar from 1684-1690, but Hólar was the northern bishopric of Iceland.
The memorial stone for Bishop Jón Vídalín
While staying in the rest house by Kvígindisfell Jón Vídalín got a sharp pain in his side and died shortly after. On the 2nd of September, his body was carried to Skálholt, where he was buried on the 6th of September.
Bishop Jón Vídalín was the main Latin poet of his time, a scholar and a pioneer, and a great preacher. He was the author of Vídalínspostilla, a collection of sermons to be read at home. It was the most widely read religious track for one and a half centuries in Iceland.
Jón Vídalin was the bishop of Skálholt episcopal see from 1698-1720, but there had been a bishopric at Skálholt since 1056.
Skálholt episcopal see
Skálholt was the center of ecclesiastic power in Iceland from 1056-1796, for 740 years, and here was the center of culture, learning, and worldly power in Iceland.
The cathedral in my photo above was erected in 1963, but at the time when Jón Vídalín was bishop at Skálholt, another cathedral, Brynjólfskirkja cathedral, was in this location from 1650-1802.
That cathedral was named after Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson who was the Bishop at Skálholt from 1639-1674.
The old pulpit in the cathedral which Bishop Jón Vídalín must have used for his sermons
You can still find some of the old artifacts from Brynjólfskirkja cathedral in the new cathedral, like an old pulpit dating back to the 17th century, an old altar, and a copper chandelier.
I have written another travel-blog about Skálholt: The historic Skálholt Episcopal See in South Iceland.
It was a really tragic event when the bishop died suddenly while away on a trip, and I am glad that memorial crosses have been erected in honour of the Bishop of Skálholt.
At Skálholt - Þorláksbúð
The story goes that Jón Vídalín wrote this four-line stanza before he went on his final journey:
"Herra Guð í himnasal
haltu mér við trúna.
Kvíði ég fyrir Kaldadal,
kvelda tekur núna"
but here Jón Vídalín is asking his God in heaven to help him keep his faith, as he dreads travelling on the Kaldidalur route, now that night is approaching.
The memorial for Jón Vídalín
The thoroughfare to West Iceland was through here as was the thoroughfare to the north as I told you in my last travel-blog.
And it is believed that people from the east, north, and west of Iceland would meet up at Hofmannaflöt plains and catch up before riding to Alþingi at Þingvellir, where the parliament was held for 2 weeks in June from 930-1798.
There seem to have been discussions about erecting a memorial for Bishop Jón Vídalín since 1745, but the first memorial cross that I know of was erected back in 1963 in the same year as Skálholtskirkja cathedral was erected.
The aluminum cross at Biskupsbrekka
That wooden cross, unfortunately, broke under a heavy snow load. Shortly after an aluminum cross was erected by Biskupsbrekka hill.
The new cross, which was erected in 2020 is 6 meters (1.5 meter underground) and made from cured pinewood (málmfura). The memorial was erected at Biskupsbrekka on the 30th of August 2020, on the 300th anniversary of Jón Vídalín's death.
The instigator for this project was Skálholtsfélagið with financial support from Vinnslustöðin in Vestmannaeyjar.
By the new memorial cross and the stone relief of Jón Vídalín
Páll at Húsafell made the stone memorial, but he is well-known in Iceland for carving faces on rocks. Páll is a great artist and you can see his work both at Húsafell in West Iceland and in many places in Iceland.
If you take the Kaldidalur highland track from here instead of the Uxahryggjaleið route, you will end up in Húsafell.
Páll found the stone in Kaldidalur and thought that it looked like Bishop Jón Vídalín. He only had to sharpen the features a bit. And when water is poured over it the resemblance is even more clear.
Bishop Jón Vídalín by Páll at Húsafell
Páll played on his stone harp during the consecration of the new memorial cross the 4-line stanza which Jón Vídalín supposedly composed before he died.
The ordination bishop at Skálholt, Kristján Björnsson (who is married to my second cousin) blessed the new cross and the memorial stone.
And earlier that day a memorial service was held in Þingvallakirkja church. Jón Vídalín's sister, Guðrún, was married to the minister at Þingvellir.
Jón Vídalín had donated a church bell to the church when he was ordained the Bishop at Skálholt, and on the 300th anniversary of his death, the old church bell was rung at Þingvellir.
I think it is lovely that a bishop who died here in the 18th century is remembered in such a beautiful way in the 21st century :)
The old sign by Biskupsbrekka
The crosses are not directly by the new road and are kind of hidden away if you don't know what you are looking for, which leads to people not seeing the crosses. I once passed them without seeing them.
They are not far from the road though and as you turn for Uxahryggir you can turn to the left onto the old road leading to Biskupsbrekka and drive back 1.5 km. There is a sign by the road.
The information sign and the crosses by Biskupsbrekka
There is an information sign by the crosses, which tells us about the Hallbjarnarvörður cairns. The story about these cairns is found in the 51st chapter of Landnáma - the Book of Settlements and is thus ancient, dating back to the 10th century.
It tells us about Hallbjörn Oddsson, the grandchild of Hallkell, the brother of Ketilbjörn gamli at Mosfell, whom I told you about in my travel-blog about Kerið crater.
He demanded a duel with Grímur the settler of Grímsnes and killed him and took his land - he was not a nice guy. And neither was his grandchild, Hallbjörn, who lived at Kiðjaberg in Grímsnes.
The information sign by Biskupsbrekka
Hallbjörn married Hallgerður, the daughter of Tungu-Oddur, but the marriage was not affectionate. They lived with her father for the first winter, but when spring arrived, Hallbjörn wanted to leave and take his wife, Hallgerður, with him.
Hallgerður is described as having the longest hair in Iceland together with Hallgerður langbrók from Njálssaga - the Story of Burnt Njál and the Laxdæla saga.
When Hallbjörn wanted to leave and take her with him, she sat and combed her long hair, which covered her whole body all the way down to the floor.
A beautiful red creek on the hike to Hallbjarnarvörður cairns
Hallbjörn ordered her to leave with him but she didn't budge, no matter how hard he tried to lift her up. So he took hold of her hair and wanted to pull her by the hair from the spot where she sat, but she didn't budge.
So he cut her head off with his sword and rode off!! I remember how shocked I was when I read this chapter in Landnáma, things like this stay in my mind.
Of course, Tungu-Oddur was not happy about this, but he kept his distance, and men were sent to chase after Hallbjörn. There were 12 of them, but only 2 men had accompanied Hallbjörn.
Searching for Hallbjarnarvörður cairns
Hallbjörn first killed 3 of the men chasing after him, and his 2 companions were killed.
He then killed another 2, before he was slain for this evil deed.
This place has since that time been called Hallbjarnarvörður - the Cairns of Hallbjörn, but on one hill there are 5 cairns, and on one hill there are 2 cairns, in remembrance of the men who were killed on the hills.
There were cairns on all the hills
I went searching for the Hallbjarnarvörður cairns, but as there were several hills with cairns on them, I will have to come back with better directions.
I am sure that I would have found them if we had walked a little further.
Biskupsbrekka is a beautiful stop on the way to Uxahryggir or Kaldidalur valley and it is well worth stopping here before you drive any further.
There is one cairn with suspenders on Biskupsbrekka hill
Here you can see the location of Biskupsbrekka on Google maps.
I have written a couple of travel-blogs about what there is to see and do on the Uxahryggjaleið route:
Lundarreykjadalur Valley in West Iceland - the Natural Hot Pools Krosslaug and Englandshver
The majestic Waterfall Hvítserkur in Fitjaá River in West-Iceland
And if you take the Kaldidalur highland track and drive to Húsafell then you will find yourself on the beautiful Silver Circle with myriad attractions: The Spectacular Silver Circle in West Iceland.
Have a lovely time in Iceland :)
Kirkjan - Nýr kross í Biskupsbrekku
Kirkjan - Tveir listamenn í Biskupsbrekku
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