Lonely Planet calls Hallgrimskirkja “star of a thousand postcards”. A white concrete Lutheran church with a soaring tower that dominates Reykjavik’s skyline, Hallgrimskirkja’s architect was Guõjón Samúelsson, who never saw it completed. Samúelsson also designed Akyreyri’s main church. Unlike Hallgrimskirkja, Akureyrakirkja sits atop a hill looking like an impressively large angel with its wings upraised. Both churches are landmarks worth visiting, but Ruth and I almost gave up on seeing the inside of Akureyrakirkja, which was consecrated in 1940.
For many years after settlement, Iceland was a Catholic country. Then it became Lutheran. Now, we were told, it’s very secular. If Icelanders go to church, it’s usually on a major religious holiday. Many are worried about the impact of the 150 Syrians that Iceland has agreed to take in. There have been few Muslims in Iceland, until now.
We got lucky. On Sunday morning as we were leaving Akureyri, Ruth & I stopped one final time and a woman getting ready for an evening service got a key and let us in. It was worth the wait. Another woman was practicing the organ for the single morning service at 11. The church has a German organ with 3,300 pipes and an Icelandic choir organ.
Because Iceland is a fishing nation, there’s a ship suspended from the church’s ceiling. This is an old Nordic tradition for the protection of loved ones at sea. If you look closely, you can see it on the right side of the photo above. One of the church’s windows is from England’s Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed early in World War II by the German Luftwaffe. I’m not sure which one because one source said it was in the chancel and the brochure the lady with the key gave me said it was in the choir. When I wanted to know, there was no one to ask.
If you’re in Akureyri during the summer, you have a better chance of seeing Akureyrakirkja because it admits visitors most days. Lonely Planet says to check the board outside for opening times.