Hallgrímskirkja

The 73 metre tower of this church is the main landmark of Reykjavík. A design competition for a church for 1200 people was announced in 1929, and the architect Guðjón Samúelsson started work on the design in 1937 (he also built the Catholic Cathedral, the National Theatre and the University of Iceland). The design symbolises mountains and glaciers soaring up through hexagonal columnar basalt. Building work started in 1945 and finished in 1986, when the church was consecrated on 26 October. It is dedicated to Hallgrímur Pétursson, Iceland’s most renowned sacred poet.

 

There are two organs: the concert organ by Johannes Klais (Bonn) has 5275 pipes and is 15 metres high; there is also a smaller chancel organ. The stained glass is the work of Leifur Breiðfjörð. The pulpit was the gift of Sigurbjörn Einarsson, the parish’s first priest; its glass panels reproduce Hallgrímur’s sacred Hymns of the Passion and the canopy above has the inscription: “Let God’s hand lead you here”. The colours of the glass are green (for hope, development and maturity) and violet (for repentance). The baptismal font (2001) combines a base of Icelandic basalt and a bowl of Czech crystal; the stone is engraved with a prayer by Hallgrímur: “May God the Father be my father.”

 

In the nave, on the left as you face the altar, is a sculpture called The Martyr (by Sigurjón Ólafsson) and opposite it is a small bronze statue called The Guardian Angel (by Einar Jónsson). Einar also gave the church the statue of Christ that stands to the left of the door as you leave the nave. The tower belfry has a 29-bell carillion and three great bells, named Hallgrímur, Guðríður (his wife) and Steinunn (his daughter, who died young). The church is one of only three in Iceland that strike the hours. Holy Communion is sung on Wednesdays at 0800 and Sundays at 1100. There is an English service at 1400 on the last Sunday of each month.


Outside the church is the statue of Leifur Eiríksson – an Icelander who discovered the continent of North America about 400 years before Columbus did. Descend the road down which he stares. This Skólavörðustígur, perhaps the most pleasant of Reykjavík’s shopping streets. About halfway down the street, on the right, is Hegningarhúsið – the city's old prison, built in 1874 to house up to 23 inmates. It was still in use in 1989, when the number of cells was reduced to 19, and it only closed in 2016. The prison cells are on the ground floor – you can glimpse them through the barred windows – and it is said that revelling tourists kept the inmates awake so often, they had to be issued with ear plugs.


At the bottom of the hill, you reach a junction with Laugavegur on the right (back to Hlemmur) and the busy Bankastræti on your left. On the corner with Bankastræti, you'll see a step in the road called the "gossip ledge", where the city's inhabitants used to stand and exchange news, before social media.

Turn left onto Bankastræti, continuing downhill until you reach the Lækjargata road junction. In front of you, on the right, is a small, paved, open square: this is Lækjartorg.

Next: Lækjartorg to Austurvöllur