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Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church, located on top of hill Skólavörðuhæð in the centre of Reykjavík. At 74,5 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland, and its tower offers a spectacular panoramic view over the city.  

History and design

The church was designed by one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, Guðjón Samúelsson, who is said to have sought inspiration for his expressionistic design from elements of the Icelandic nature. These include glaciers, mountains and trap rocks, such as the hexagonal basalt columns that surround the waterfall Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park. 

The church took 41 years to build, with construction starting in 1945 and finishing in 1986. The leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a building that would tower over the Catholic church of Landakotskirkja, also designed by Samúelsson. The large pipe organ inside Hallgrímskirkja, consisting of over 5000 pipes, was built by German Johannes Klais of Bonn and its construction was completed in December 1992. 

Outside the church stands its predecessor; a statue of Leifur Eiríksson by American sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder. The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930, on the millennial anniversary of Iceland’s first legislative body Alþingi, founded in Þingvellir in 930 AD. Leifur Eiríksson was a Norse explorer from Iceland who discovered the continent of North America in the year 1000, more than half a century before Christopher Columbus. 

Culture 

The church’s namesake is Icelandic priest Hallgrímur Pétursson, a 17th-century poet and author of The Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar). The hymns are a vital part of Icelandic religious tradition and a stable of local literature, having been reprinted over 75 times since their original publishing in 1666. 

The tower of the church is each day visited by hundreds of spectators who seek to enjoy its sweeping view of the capital. The observation tower can be accessed via a lift. Hallgrímskirkja counts as the most iconic landmark of the city of Reykjavík and is visible throughout most of the capital. It serves as a focal meeting point for several cultural events, for example, an annual gathering for watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. 

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