So why images of Icelandic Churches….

©jmillerphoto.com - Hvalsneskirkja

I am the first to say that I have been very blessed to have had many great opportunities to make images, not the least of which was the many opportunities that came with living in Iceland for nearly seven years.  Iceland is a land of incredible beauty and incredibly gracious and kind hosts.  I have never learned so much about the world or myself as the time that I spent in Iceland.  It was disappointing when I finally had to leave and I am planning a trip back in the next couple of years.

While the landscapes and natural features are stunning, my eye was attracted to man-made gems–Iceland’s churches.  I was introduced to their beauty and vast array of styles by a friend of mine who had the opportunity to do the full circle tour of the island and needed some help scanning in his images.  While all of his images were gorgeous and pushed me towards the path of exploring the country, his images of the churches caught my eye and wouldn’t let go.  With each passing church that hit my flatbed scanner, I became more and more fascinated with the architecture and the surrounding landscapes.  So Kevin B., if you’re out there, I have you to both thank and blame for this.

©jmillerphoto.com - Langholtskirkja

©jmillerphoto.com - Langholtskirkja

Later that fall when we became increasingly comfortable with traveling into the countryside, we made a point of stopping at each church we would stumble upon.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Icelandic countryside, once you leave Reykjavík, towns and villages are few and far between.  There are many farms in the countryside, and at or near many of these farms will be a small church that serves the surrounding farms.  Surrounding is perhaps an understatement as it was normal for the distance between churches to be 40-50 kilometers (24-30 miles) or more apart.

Each stop would present an opportunity to admire the beauty and character of these churches.  And as we would see the character, my eyes opened to the fact that these churches were a part of the collective history of the country and more importantly the collective history of the families that they served, emphasized by the fact that most of the churchyards were also the final resting place for community members who had died.

As I wrote when I had my exhibit of Iceland’s churches at Crockett National Bank in San Angelo, Texas, in the fall of 2008, these were places of community and the sharing of the community’s collective conscious.  These were places where babies were welcomed into the community through baptism, where the community gathered to mourn and honor those who died (often at a very young age), where young couples joined together in marriage to begin their lives as one, where the community came together on a regular basis to worship and feel a sense of togetherness.  These were the gathering places that helped Iceland through troubled times, whether through natural or man-made calamities, and helped strengthen her resolve.

©jmillerphoto - Sod Church at Núpsstaður

Of course, it didn’t hurt that these structures are beautiful in their own right.  The majority of these structures are from the 19th century, with some extending back well into the 18th.  Each has a slightly different architectural style, whether through shape, height, coloration, or adornment.  The different regions of the country show off their own sense of style, whether through coloration or construction materials.  Each is a treasure that is waiting to be found.

By my count, and with some help from the work that Hannes Björnsson has done at kirkjan.net, there are approximately 360 churches and chapels that belong (through association) to the National Church of Iceland, or Þjóðkirkjan.  Along with these structures, there are also a handful of other church buildings that belong to other denominations, the two most significant architecturally being the Catholic cathedral in Reykjavík and Fríkirkjan, also in Reykjavík across from the Tjörn.

I have been often asked how many churches do I have images of.  My honest answer is that I don’t know, though I know I have a lot of them.  I used to do a pretty good job of cataloging my images so if I could ever find the time I could probably get a pretty accurate answer.  My guess off-hand is probably a number just south of 100.  I’m hoping to add to that number in a significant way when I return for my visit, with my goal over 4 weeks to make images of a total of at least 150.

But my library is still very full of images that have not been put up on the gallery and expect to see more in the coming months.

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~ by Jim Miller on Wednesday, 3 March 2010.

2 Responses to “So why images of Icelandic Churches….”

  1. We love your pictures of churches and even today when we see a small unique church your name comes up – even if we are in the US now ;~) Seeing those picures make me miss Iceland – it is SUCH a beautiful place and we were all blessed to spend time exploring it!

  2. A well written article about Icelandic churches. Beautiful photography. Bob

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