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Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church, located on top of the Skólavörðuhæð hill in the centre of Reykjavík.

At 74.5 metres (245 feet) tall, it is the largest church in Iceland, and its tower offers a spectacular panoramic view over the city. Discover more about the city on a tour of Reykjavik.

History and Design

The church was designed by one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, Guðjón Samúelsson, who is said to have sought inspiration for his expressionistic design from elements of Icelandic nature.

These include glaciers, mountains and lava formations, particularly the hexagonal basalt columns that surround the waterfall Svartifoss in Skaftafell Nature Reserve, in Vatnajökull National Park. These have influenced the architecture of many structures in Iceland, as well as a whole host of other artistic projects.

It is also designed to resemble Thor’s hammer, with the handle facing up, as a nod to Iceland’s religious history.

The church took 41 years to build, with construction starting in 1945 and finishing in 1986. The leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a building that would tower over the Catholic Church of Landakotskirkja, also designed by Samúelsson.

The large pipe organ inside Hallgrímskirkja, consisting of over 5000 pipes, was built by German Johannes Klais of Bonn and its construction was completed in December 1992.

Outside the church stands one of the most famous statues of one of Iceland’s most legendary children, Leifur Eiríksson, by American sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder; Eiríksson was a Norse explorer from Iceland who discovered the continent of North America in the year 1000, more than half a century before Christopher Columbus.  

The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930, on the millennial anniversary of Iceland’s legislative body, the Alþingi, founded in Þingvellir in 930 AD. This was the world’s first democratically elected parliament and is now located in Reykjavík.

Culture

Iceland's largest church beneath a rainbow.

The church’s namesake is the Icelandic priest Hallgrímur Pétursson, a 17th-century poet and author of the Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar). These hymns are a vital part of Icelandic religious tradition and a staple of local literature, having been reprinted over 75 times since their original publishing in 1666.

The tower of the church is each day visited by hundreds of spectators who seek to enjoy its sweeping view of the capital. The observation tower can be accessed via a lift. There is a small fee to ascend above the clock, which goes towards the maintenance and running of the church.

Hallgrímskirkja counts as the most iconic landmark of the city of Reykjavík and is visible throughout most of the capital, challenged only by the concert hall and conference centre Harpa. It is a useful tool for navigating as visitors wander the streets.

It also serves as a focal meeting point for several cultural events, such as the annual gathering for watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. On this night, thousands of people set off dozens of fireworks in an ad-hoc, somewhat chaotic, yet unbelievably dazzling show.

In the lead-up to the night, many shops sell protective goggles that are recommended for all observers, particularly children, due to a few incidents of debris falling from poorly aimed fireworks.

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