Hallgrimskirkja: The sentinel of Reykjavik

Sitting sentinel upon on the tallest hill in Reykjavik, the seventy meter high silhouette of Hallgrimskirkja appears to resemble a sword that has been buried deep to it’s hilt. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, frozen lakes, eerie graveyards, Hallgrimskirkja (the Church of Hallgrimur) adds to the magic and mystery of Iceland and it’s capital city, Reykjavik. Due to its height and location, the church is always visible from anywhere in Reykjavik.

The best way to appreciate Hallgrimskirkja is by walking up to the hill and passing through the main shopping street of Reykjavik. When you stand before the church, you cannot help but marvel at the unique beauty and architectural complexity of the church. Designed by Guꝺjón Samuel in 1937 to resemble the lava flows and lava fields of Iceland, the church took nearly forty years to complete (construction started in 1945 and finished in 1986).

Walking through the large wooden doors, you immediately notice that the thick, stoney exterior was designed to withstand the Icelandic winter. When the large wooden doors are closed behind, the noise created by the winter blizzards are silenced and a sense of calm pervades. By contrast to the unique exterior, the interior of the church appears to resemble most other traditional gothic designs. The most outstanding feature inside though is the pipe organ, which weighs twenty five tons and is composed of over five thousand pipes.

No pilgrimage to Hallgrimskirkja is complete without ascending to the lookout at the top of the church’s steeple. On a clear day, panoramic views of Reykjavik are available. In winter, the views are even more incredible, with the brightly coloured roofs and christmas lights, punctuating the snow-blanketed canvass. After descending from the lookout, the final stop on the way to downtown Reykjavik is the statue of Leifur Eiriksson. According to records, he was the first European to visit America, beating Christopher Columbus by about half a century. Recognising Leifur’s achievements, the US government commissioned the statue, which was completed in 1932. An interesting detail that may be lost is that if one follows Eiriksson’s gaze, he is looking west, in the direction of America.

Getting to the bottom of the hill, it will be difficult to resist looking back at the church one last time. Hallgrimskirkja took nearly forty years to complete and now stands sentinel above the city of Reykjavik. It’s location, imposing height and the sword-hilt like silhouette adds to the magic and mystery of Reykjavik. Hallgrimskirkja is a definite must see for any traveller to Iceland.

The view of Reykjavik downtown from the top of the church. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
Statue of Leifur Eiriksson at the entrance of the church. Eiriksson gazes to the west, in the direction of America. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
Hallgrimskirkja, sits atop the hill in Reykjavik. The church is incredibly beautiful. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand
The 25 ton organ inside the church has over five thousand organ pipes. Image credit: Hasmukh Chand



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