June 14, 2016

History

A Short History of Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja – the Church of Hallgrímur – is both a national monument, dedicated tot he most renowned sacred poet of Iceland, Hallgrímur Pétursson, and a mid-town parish church with a vibrant parochial life.

The parish is part of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland, which is a member of the Provoo Communion of protestant-episcopal churches, uniting Lutheran and Anglican churches of northwest Europe. There are about 7000 parishioners, served by two pastors, with a choirmaster and organist, churchwardens and numerous volunteers, who support the many and varied parochial activities for all, from children to the aged.

The Icelandic parliament was responsible for the church being built. The rules for the design competition (announced in 1929) specified that the church should seat 1200, and have a high tower that could potentially be used for transmission of radio signals.

The state architect, Guðjón Samúelsson (1887 – 1950), started work on the design in 1937. A nationalistic style typified his work, as was common among Nordic architects of the period. He was also responsible for other important buildings in Reykjavík: the main building of the University of Iceland; the National Theatre; and the RC Church of Christ the King. He drew richly on Icelandic traditions and materials in his designs, and Hallgrímskirkja, his ultimate work, shows this clearly, symbolising mountains and glaciers soaring up through hexagonal columnar basalt.

Until 1940, Reykjavík was a single parish, and then three new parishes were established, including Hallgrímskirkja parish, which then had the task of building its church.

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The church under construction

Building work started in 1945, and in 1948, the first stage was completed: the crypt was consecrated for church use. Services were held there until a new area in the southern part of the tower base was taken to brought in 1974. The whole church was finally consecrated on 26 October 1986, the day before the 312th anniversary of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s death, and the same year that Reykjavík celebrated 200 years as a town and now city.

While the State and the City supported the building, 60% of the building costs came from parish funds and private gifts. The church has benefited from many gifts of church furniture and art, presented in memory of loved ones or to enhance the spiritual dimensions of the parish and its church.