LivingTravelHallgrimskirkja (Iglesia de Hallgrimur) in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja (Iglesia de Hallgrimur) in Reykjavik, Iceland

Located on an island shaped by earthquakes and volcanoes, the colorful Icelandic city of Reykjavik is home to the radically designed Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrimur Church), Reykjavik’s iconic Lutheran church.

Rising from the top of Skolavorduholt Hill in the center of town, this church stands 250 feet tall and is visible from twelve miles away, dominating the skyline. The church also serves as an observation tower where, for a fee of 800 crowns, you can take the elevator to the top for an unforgettable view of Reykjavik.

All proceeds go towards the maintenance of the church. The bell tower houses three huge bells which are called Hallgrimur, Gudrun and Steinunn. These bells are named after the reverend and his wife and daughter. The daughter died young.

Hallgrimskirkja Church takes its name from the poet and clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson, known for his Hymns of the Passion. Petursson is perhaps Iceland’s most revered poet and had a great influence on the spiritual development of the nation.


Designed by state architect Guojon Samuelsson and commissioned in 1937, the church was imagined to resemble the mathematical symmetry of volcanic basalt after it cooled down. Samuelsson was also the main architect of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Reykjavik as well as the Akureyri Church and was heavily influenced by Scandinavian modernism. Like his peers in other Nordic countries, Samuelsson wanted to create a national style of architecture and endeavor to make the church look like part of the Icelandic terrain, with the clean, minimalist lines common to modernism.

The interior of Hallgrimskirkja is in stark contrast to the exterior. Inside, you’ll find more traditional high-pointed Gothic vaults and narrow windows. In fact, according to early representations by Samuelsson, Hallgrimskinkja was originally designed to be part of a much larger and wider neoclassical square, surrounded by institutes dedicated to the arts and higher learning. This design had striking similarities to the Senate Square in Helsinki. For whatever reason, nothing of this great design was ever made.

Construction on the church began in 1945 and ended 41 years later, in 1986. Unfortunately, Samuelsson, who died in 1950, did not live to see the completion of his work. Although the church took years to complete, it was in use long before.

In 1948, the Crypt under the choir was consecrated for use as a worship space. It served in this capacity until 1974, when the bell tower was completed, along with both wings. The area was consecrated and the congregation moved there, enjoying more space and additional facilities.

Finally, in 1986, the Nave was consecrated on Reykjavik’s bicentennial day.

The church also has the largest organ in all of Iceland. Made by German organ builder Johannes Klais, this massive instrument stands 45 feet tall and weighs an incredible 25 tons. The organ was completed and installed in 1992 and from mid-June to mid-August, it can be heard three times a week, both at lunchtime and for an evening concert, for an admission of Ikr2000 and Ikr 1700, respectively.

Interesting data

Hallgrimskirkja has many other interesting curiosities;

Leifer Breidfjord designed and designed the main door of the sanctuary, as well as the large stained glass window above the main entrance. Breidfjord is also known for the Robert Burns memorial window in St. Giles Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He also designed the decorations in and around the pulpit, symbolic representations of the Trinity, X and P, the Greek initials of Christ, as well as the Alpha and Omega.

The church also owns a copy of Gudbrandsbiblia, the first Icelandic bible, printed in 1584 in Holar, Iceland.

The Hallgrimskirkja parish numbers around 6,000 and is staffed by two ministers, as well as several additional deacons and guardians, and of course an organist. The church has a very complete artistic and cultural life. There are works of art hanging around the church, such as watercolors by Icelandic artist Karolina Larusdottir and paintings by Danish artist Stefan Viggo Pedersen.

The church choir is considered one of the best in Iceland. Founded in 1982, it has toured Iceland and most of Europe.

Outside the church is a statue of the legendary Leif Eriksson, the Viking who is now believed to have been the first European to discover the American continent, defeating Columbus by five centuries. The statue commemorates the millennial (thousandth) anniversary of Iceland’s first parliament and was a gift from the United States of America.

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