A church upon a hill – Hallgrímskirkja

A church upon a hill – Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Iceland. This church in Reykjavik is located on top of Skólavörðuholtið hill, which makes it easily noticeable on Reykjavik’s skyline.

Astonishing height of Hallgrímskirkja 

The most conspicuous feature of this church is its height of 74.5 meters. This makes it the tallest building in Reykjavik and the second tallest building in the country. Iceland’s tallest building is an office tower in Kópavogur, south of Reykjavík, called the Smáratorg tower, which is only 3.1 meters taller than Hallgrímskirkja.  

 Hallgrímskirkja is also very close in height to the fourth tallest structure in Iceland, which is a 78-meter tall smokestack on a smelter in Reyðarfjörður in East Iceland. The only other structures that are taller than Hallgrímskirkja are radio antennas, so the difference in height is more significant. These are the 220-meter tall radio antenna at Eiðar, East Iceland, 244-meter tall Naval Radio Transmitter facility in Grindavík, and 412-meter tall Longwave radio mast at Gufuskálar. 

The construction of Hallgrímskirkja

The church was named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, who was one of the better-known Iceland’s poets from the 17th century. 

Hallgrímskirkja was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson and it took around 41 years to be built. First, its construction was delayed for a few years due to a lot of discussions about where it should be built, and then, the construction was postponed because of the war, so it finally began in 1945. The construction work was slow since a church on top of a hill was not among the country’s priorities. 

The first part finished was the crypt beneath the church’s choir, around 1948. Hallgrímskirkja’s wings and steeple were declared sacred in 1974, and the building of the nave was completed in 1986. Unfortunately, Samúelsson, the architect of Hallgrímskirkja, did not live to see his best work completed because he died in 1950.

Negative reactions of the construction of Hallgrímskirkja

The building of Hallgrímskirkja stirred up a lot of controversy. Icelanders did not appreciate the fact that another building was being constructed. In fact, Icelanders tended to turn any big construction project into a problem to be talked about at that time. What’s more, the construction was quite expensive and there were a lot of major repairs requiring additional funds. Not only were its critics concerned with the cost, but also complained that the church was too big and not pleasing to the eye.   

Visiting Hallgrímskirkja

Although Hallgrímskirkja is often thought to be Reykjavík’s cathedral due to its size and large numbers of foreign visitors coming every year, the actual cathedral of Reykjavik is Domkirkja cathedral church (Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík in Icelandic). This fact certainly doesn’t make it any less worth visiting. In fact, this church is also used as an observation tower, so if you go to the deck, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the whole city. The visiting hours differ in summer and winter, so keep this in mind when planning your visit to this breathtaking church.