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Strandarkirkja Church Travel Guide

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Cultural attractions, Beach, Bird Sights
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Strandarkirkja church in Iceland.

Strandarkirkja is a historic Lutheran church on the South Coast known for its votive origins. It was built in gratitude for a miraculous event and is believed to bring good luck when invoked in prayer.

Strandarkirkja church is located in the small community of Selvogur along the South Coast, by the base of the Reykjanes peninsula. It's a significant historical and cultural landmark that's a 15-minute drive from the town of Thorlakshofn and Kleifarvatn lake, and 35 minutes from the town of Selfoss.

Strandarkirkja is said to be a votive church, meaning that it was built as a fulfillment of a vow or pledge in gratitude for blessings received or in hopes of divine intervention. Because of this, it's known as a symbol of good fortune and regularly receives votive offerings from all over the world. It was even one of the richest churches in Iceland for a time!

If you have a rental car in Iceland, you can visit Strandakirkja as part of a self-drive tour, and it's a great stop to include in tours of the Reykjanes peninsula or tours of the South Coast.

Photo above from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by TommyBee.

The Mythical Origins of Strandarkirkja

Strandarkirkja church as it looked around the year 1900

Photo above from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Cornell University Library. Strandarkirkja around the year 1900.

While the church currently standing in Selvogur was built in 1888, the history of Strandarkirkja traces back to the 12th century. There are multiple stories tied to its origin, but according to the most famous one, it was built because of a miracle!

The story goes that shortly before the year 1200, a group of Icelandic sailors were returning to land but got caught in a storm. They vowed to provide all the material needed to build a church wherever they landed if God helped guide them safely to the shore.

An angel appeared to them at the front of their ship, bathed in light, and helped lead them to land through the turbulent coast and hidden reefs. They landed safely in a bay now known as Engilvik, or "Angel Bay," by Selvogur, and they fulfilled their promise, building the Strandarkirkja church.

The Landsýn statue by Strandarkirkja is beautiful

The church you can visit today was originally built in 1888, and it was restored in 1968 and again in 1996. Next to it, you'll find a beautiful statue depicting the angel looking towards the sea. It's called Landsýn, which translates to "land sight," and was made in 1950 by sculptor Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir (1889-1968).

While the miracle is the most well-known story of the church's origin, the oldest tale of Strandakirkja's creation is from the 10th and 11th centuries. It tells of the chieftain Gissur hvíti, who was instrumental in Iceland's conversion to Christianity. He was sent by Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway, to build churches in the country, and Strandarkirkja was supposedly among them.

A later story similarly states that it was built by a ship captain with wood from Norway, possibly a version of the original that has changed through oral storytelling tradition.

The coastline of the Reykjanes peninsula is rugged and beautifulThere are also younger stories of supposed divine intervention connected to the church, possibly about the creation of the current Strandarkirkja. In the 18th or 19th century, wood was imported from Norway for the construction of a new church. However, the roof beams turned out to be too short! This meant new wood had to be ordered, delaying the project by months and adding to the expense.

A man was sent to ride to the village of Eyrabakki to order the wood, but for an unknown reason, something made him take an uncommon and more difficult path along the coastline. Along the way, he came across a great deal of driftwood. On inspection, the driftwood was the right length for the roof beams, so it was dragged on land and used to raise the church!

Votive Offerings to Strandarkirkja Church

The interior of Strandarkirkja church is beautiful

Because of the believed holy origin of the church, many have invoked Strandarkirkja in prayer throughout the centuries. It has been common among those dealing with difficulties, like sickness in the family or when faced with situations like job applications or final exams.

In return, the church has received many votive offerings, almost exclusively financial, from Icelanders and people all over the world!

How to Visit Strandarkirkja Church

You'll see the beautiful ocean by Strandarkirkja church

Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Hafsteinn Robertsson.

You can see Strandarkirkja church from the ocean during this scenic 2-hour RIB boat tour from Thorlakshofn, but if you want to go up to it, it's best to visit with a small rental car as it's not commonly included in guided tours.

Strandarkirkja welcomes visitors daily throughout summer and on weekends during spring and fall. This makes it a great addition to summer self-drive tours if you want a cultural stop on your itinerary!

If you're visiting Iceland in winter and want to stop by Strandarkirkja, you can pre-arrange a visit on weekends. Of course, you can always drive up to the church any time of the year and see it from the outside, along with the surrounding nature!

Other Attractions on the Reykjanes Peninsula

The Raufarholshellir cave is one of the wonders in the area around Strandarkirkja church

Photo from Classic 1-Hour Lava Tunnel Caving Tour of the Raufarholshellir Lava Tubes

Strandarkirkja church is just a 20-minute drive from the Raufarholshellir lava tunnel, which you can visit with this amazing 1-hour lava-caving tour.

The church is also a 10-minute drive away from the orange Selvogsviti lighthouse, which is part of the Lighthouse Path. The route brings you to the main attractions along the coast and through the towns of Thorlakshofn, Eyrarbakki, and Stokkseyri.

The path connects the Reykjanes peninsula and the South Coast and is easy to include in a relaxed self-drive tour. If you have a rental car, the area is a fun addition to tours of the Golden Circle. Though this can be done as a long day trip, it's best to split the journey over a period of two days and stay a night in accommodation in the Golden Circle.

If you're planning an outdoor adventure in Iceland with a tent or by renting a campervan, you can stay on the free campsite just by the Strandarkirkja church. Make sure to stop by the nearby hot dog stand and the small flea market, which sells locally made handcrafts like authentic Icelandic lopapeysa sweaters!

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