Iceland’s tallest church is around 74 meters high – around 245 feet – and has an equally long name: Hallgrímskirkja, roughly pronounced as “hall-kreems-kirk-yuh”. It sits atop a hill in central Reykjavík, adding to its majesty. Thanks to its position and height, the tower offers a fantastic panoramic view of the Icelandic capital. Its height and distinct appearance not only make it a monument in the area, but also allow it to serve as a navigational tool for visitors wandering the streets.
Iceland is known as the “Land of Fire and Ice” as its landscape contains glaciers, lava formations, waterfalls, black sand beaches and more. The church, designed by the expressionist Guðjón Samúelsson, was built to reflect these elements of Icelandic nature. It is built of concrete and clad with a rough cast of white granite, a link between the modern architectural style of the area and the wild nature that surrounds it. Its jagged hexagonal columns were initially an acquired taste for many Icelanders, as its appearance is so unique and in stark contrast to the rest of the cityscape.
Construction of the church took more than 40 years, with a somewhat tumultuous journey: Samúelsson died in 1950, leaving the church project unfinished. Other architects tried to put together a plan to continue his vision, with architects Hörður Bjarnason and Garðar Halldórsson leading the way. While construction of the church began in 1945, Hallgrimskirkja church was finally completed in October 1986.
Hallgrímur Pétursson is the church’s namesake – the translation of Hallgrímskirkja is “Hallgrímur Church”. Pétursson was a 17th-century poet and pastor who wrote the world-famous Hymns of the Passion, or Passíusálmar. Inside the church, you’ll find Iceland’s tallest pipe organ, over 50 feet tall, with over 5,000 pipes, and for a small fee, you can climb above the church tower clock for incredible views of the city .
In front of the church, you’ll notice a green statue of the heroic figure Leifur Eiriksson atop a stone pedestal. Leifur Eiriksson is known for being the first European to set foot on the North American continent more than half a century before Christopher Columbus. The statue was a gift from the United States to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Alþingi, the world’s first democratically elected parliament located in Reykjavík. However, the gift was a hard pill for some Icelanders to swallow; Eiriksson had close ties to being a Viking and was often recognized as a Norwegian. The gift of the statue to Iceland was seen as an official recognition of Eiriksson as not Norwegian, but Icelandic. This debate is still alive.
Further information: https://guidetoiceland.is/travel-iceland/drive/hallgrimskirkja