Icelandic cemeteries

In June 2006 I had the pleasure of visiting Iceland. I was attending a conference on “Geography and Saint’s Cults: Technological Aids to the Geographical Study of Saints’ Cults” which was held at the Agricultural College in Hólar. The conference organizer, Margaret Cormack of the College of Charleston (South Carolina) led a field excursion for the participants. We visited a number of historic churches in the Skagafjördur area. I observed that the cemeteries at these early Christian sites always include carefully tended trees. In fact, it appears that the only trees to found on the entire subarctic island are those that grow in its cemeteries.

Hólar (below) was an episcopal seat from 1106 until 1798. The cemetery is contiguous to its historic cathedral.

Hólar Cathedral and adjoining cemetery (ph. Eric Ross)

Tree and tombs in the cemetery of Hólar Cathedral (ph. Eric Ross)

The sod church at Gröf (below) dates to the 17th century.

Gröf Church and cemetery (ph. Eric Ross)

Tree and tombs in Gröf Cemetery (ph. Eric Ross)

Hofstadir, near the mouth of the Héradsvötn (not to be confused with the ancient Viking site of the same name on the Laxá River) was a presbytery and vicarage. The sod church (below) contains a revered statue of the Holy Virgin.

Entrance to Hofstadir Church, with tree and tombs (ph. Eric Ross)

Finally, historic Hólavallagardur Cemetery in central Reykjavik (sorry, no photo) is a real little grove. It is the only forested part of Iceland’s capital.

Though I have no expertise in Icelandic Christianity or shrines (that would be Professor Cormack), I do study the occurrences and uses of trees at religious sites, a spin-off from my research on Senegalese Sufi shrines. Google Earth placemarks of the cemeteries discussed in this post can be download here (kmz file). Proceedings of the Hólar conference will soon be published.


About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
This entry was posted in conferences, field trips, shrines, trees and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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