Glaumbær Turf Village & Víðimýrarkirkja Church: Taking a Time Machine Back 1000 Years in Iceland

I can’t stop thinking about it. I know, it sounds strange, but don’t you think it would be the most amazing thing if you could go back in history and live during bygone days? It seriously would be so amazing to see how people lived in bygone eras, to learn what things they held dear to their hearts, how they eked out a living. These types of thoughts press especially heavily upon my mind this chilly, albeit sunny morning in northern Iceland, for today we plan to visit an ancient turf village and church, one of our must see things on our excursion to this island nation. 

And yes, we need to get up early again. We have a busy schedule. It’s not always easy to roll out of a nice cozy warm tent when it’s chilly outside. 

This morning we enjoy some skyr, an Icelandic dairy food item that is kind of like a thick yogurt. It’s delicious by itself or on top of oatmeal…..lots of protein….should keep our bellies full for a while. 

The campground we are staying at has a little playground. The kids are delighted to burn off some energy as I clean up breakfast. 

You may remember that I have planned to take David and the rest of our clan to a turf village today. He has mentioned many times that he wants to go see a turf village, and actually wants to stay overnight at one. As far as I can figure out you can’t really stay at a turf village, so I feel like I really have disappointed him. It would be really cool, but I am pretty convinced it is not an option. Oh well, let’s see if he is happy enough with just getting to visit one. 

We approach the Glaumbær Village under a bright blue sky. It almost looks like a place where trolls or gnomes might live, under those little bumps in the ground.

On the grounds there is a house from the 1800’s. The main floor contains a small restaurant, and upstairs is a cute museum of sorts.

Kind of tight quarters for tall people in here. 

Annika loves history. One time the kids were having a discussion about time machines, and the question was would you rather live in the past or the future. Bjorn was definitely a future dweller, but Annika was adamant that the past would have been way better, and oh, so romantic! The conversation was kind of like this…..

B: “The past was far more dangerous than the future! Think of all the diseases people died from!”

A: “Well, you have no idea what kinds of deadly diseases may proliferate in the future, do you? Think about antibiotic resistance!”

B: “In the past there was so many scary wars!”

A: “Well, think about the dangers of nuclear war, and how the advancement of modern warfare can wreak havoc upon this earth!”

B: “People were poor in the past. They had to work so hard just to subsist!”

A: “How do you know if there won’t be lots of poor people in the future? There’s lots of poverty today all around the world, even though we live in a supposedly civilized and advanced time!”

B: “People were hungry in the past!”

A: “You think there is a guarantee that there will be adequate food in the future?”

B: “People had to battle the elements just to survive in the past!”

A: “There’s no guarantee that climate change can’t make the earth uninhabitable in the future, or at least very uncomfortable!”

B: “Your life expectancy in the past was so low!”

A: “Perhaps, but is it better to live a long life if you are suffering?  At least you know if you went into the past you would survive because there is still a future.”

B: “People in the future will be much smarter, and the advancements in technology will be so amazing!”

A: “How do you know? Maybe people will become increasingly dumb from eating unhealthy food or bad things in the environment.”

Who do you suppose wins the argument? Past or future? If you could enter a time machine would you want to move to the past or to the future? 

 I can tell Annika loves this little house! It is full of charm and history. 

These girls are working in the restaurant kitchen. 

Once we are done viewing the cute little house we head on up the hill to see the turf village. This village consists of several out buildings and a house with about 13 rooms joined together by a long hallway. When I gaze at the amazing village I can almost feel myself floating away, many centuries back to a long bygone era, as though I have entered into a time machine that is transporting me 1000 years back in history. 

Now there is an interesting story about this place, as you might suspect. Of course the buildings are believed to be from about the year 900, which is a heck of a long time ago! How it is that something built from sod can survive that long is beyond me. 

But anyway….back to the story. So there was this woman, Guðríður, back over 1000 years ago! I want to think in my mind that she was a beautiful and strong woman, with an iron will, yet with deep passions and a heart of gold. She had heard many wonderful stories about the New World, and she longed to go there herself. Apparently her first husband died before they could make the journey. But then she meets and marries this other dude, Þorfinnur Karlsefni, who was actually related to Eric the Red. This guy was apparently from this area of Iceland and was very wealthy, and even came complete with royal blood, no less. And what great luck! He was one of the best sailors of the time, and he had wanderlust, too! He took his lovely bride, Guðríður, and together they sailed away to the New World. They lived in Newfoundland for 3 years where she gave birth to a son, Snorri, who is believed to be the first European born in the American continent! Imagine that!

From what I can gather there were some struggles with the native population in Newfoundland, and as such the young family eventually moved back to Iceland. When they returned they made a small fortune selling furs and various things that they brought back with them from the New World. 

Now who would imagine that over a thousand years ago people would have trouble with inlaws, but apparently Guðríður’s mother-in-law didn’t like the fact that she was of inferior stock, or shall we say “low birth”, so rather than take over the farm they were to inherit, the couple ended up buying this farm right here at Glaumbær. 

Their son Snorri grew up and apparently was quite involved with Christian ministry here in Iceland. Remember, it was the year 1000 or thereabouts that the Waterfall of the Gods was named such after Porgeir Porkelsson threw his false gods into the thundering waterfalls at Godafoss, and professed that all of Iceland must convert to Christianity. I think this story is interesting even if you aren’t particularly religious, as its historical significance is quite relevant to our very existence and world history. 

Now, Guðríður, who once had such great wanderlust in her heart that she ventured to the New World, did not lose her wanderlust when she returned to Iceland. She now longed to make a pilgrimage to see the pope. And I do have to wonder what great sins Guðríður had committed in her lifetime. Why? Why would I say that? Well, that’s simple enough! She longed to make a pilgrimage to seek absolution for her sins from the pope,  so she must have had something pressing heavily upon her conscience. It really should be much simpler to get absolution, but I digress. Or maybe she didn’t have sins pressing upon her conscience, but rather wanderlust in her heart making her wish to venture to faraway and interesting places, and she used this as an excuse to travel. Who knows?

And so it was that she made the lengthy journey from Iceland to the Vatican. I read that she made most of the trip on foot, however, it seems to me that she would have had an awfully long walk on water, so I am going to change the story a bit. I think she took a boat from Iceland to mainland Europe, and then maybe she walked most of the way. I don’t know if she ever really actually got to meet the pope, and moreover if she ever got absolution for the sins that were pressing upon her, but that is a discussion for another day. When she returned to Glaumbær she discovered her son Snorri had built the first church in Iceland during her absence in her honor. The family, right here in these very buildings, here in this remote fields of northern Iceland, went on to produce several of the first bishops of Iceland. 

It’s so amazing to think about it. Can you imagine how life must have been over 1000 years ago here in this northern land? It’s so crazy! If I could take a time machine journey, I definitely think I would go back in time. I would want to gather here with the Thorfinnson family, to dine at their table here in the earthen farmhouse, sheltered from the winds and blowing snow. I would listen so closely to their conversations, for I would want to find out if people today really are so much smarter and more enlightened and wiser and more educated and intelligent than the people of yesteryear. Somehow I think not. Perhaps technology has advanced and we have more information at our fingertips, but I think that maybe in many ways the people of civilizations past perhaps were equally as intelligent as today, if not more intelligent in so many ways. 

I would love to hear if the Icelandic people of yesteryear were concerned at all about what the future might bring. Did they have any inkling about how the world would change, and all the marvelous technological advances that we have been able to enjoy? I doubt it. Who could have predicted such things 1000 years ago? Only someone who is truly visionary. Even when I think about the future today, I have to wonder what kinds of advances will occur. Will they be good or bad? Will society be better or worse for the new technological advances? It’s hard to say and hard to know.

I wonder if Guðríður would be pleased to know that I admire her for her tenacity, for her wanderlust…..I have wanderlust in my heart and soul, that’s for sure…..that’s why I am here today in the northern reaches of this island nation in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean…..with the sun beaming upon my shoulders.
I turn my face towards the sun for a moment with my eyes pressed tightly closed,  and reflect for a few moments. I can scarcely believe that I am here, in this amazing historical place treading upon the same ground that Guðríður did so many eons ago. 

I hear my husband’s familiar voice call, “Earth to Kaija…..Come check out these outbuildings! They all have their own separate entrances… looks like maybe this was used for blacksmithing, and maybe this was a granary? What do you think?”

The way that the sod is stacked in a herringbone shape is very interesting. 

When we enter into the turf village I take a deep breath and fill my lungs with the air. Somehow I expect it to be dank and earthy, but somehow it is surprisingly fresh. Little spots of natural light stream through random windows. 

Once we enter the sod village we are surprised to see so much wood used in the construction of the roof structure. There is not much wood available in this area, and it would have been costly back in the day to use wood in building projects. Here is a loom in the attic space of one of the buildings. 

The kitchen….not super high tech or anything. Somehow I don’t think they had iron pots 1000 years ago, or did they? 

You can see the herringbone sod walls in this next photo. The rooms are all pretty narrow because otherwise the turf structure would not hold up very well.


I love these ancient skates! 

This is clearly a large bedroom. 

The sod houses (rooms) are set up next to each other with access down a common hallway. Here you can see the neighboring sod house through the window. I am pretty sure there were no glass windows during Guðríður’s days.

This is where the head cheese and his wife slept. Over the centuries perhaps many bishops slept in this room.

The long hallway connects many houses/rooms together.

Right next to the sod village there is a beautiful church. This is not the church that Snorri built for his mother. 

I just love the herringbone pattern on the sod walls! 

Hey, babe, do you want to move in here? Look how thick the sod walls are. 

Well, it looks like the boys enjoyed the sod village! 

It’s time to go again. We drive away, and I wave goodbye in my mind’s eye to Snorri and his successive generations who lived at this turf farm in Glaumbær so many years ago. I know I will never get to be a guest at their dinner table, for surely a time machine will never be invented during my lifetime. Maybe time travel will be possible in my kids’ lifetime…..maybe Annika can come here one day to visit with Snorri and his family, and the beautiful Guðríður who gave birth to the very first person of European descent born upon American soil. 

We don’t go very far down the road before we find this lovely little historic turf church. The Víðimýrarkirkja church was built in 1834. Imagine how many generations have come here for services, for a respite from their difficult lives. Perhaps the message was uplifting, perhaps it was hard to hear. Maybe it pricked their souls, and caused them to feel penance, or perhaps it made them anxious and bitter. Perhaps it was their only hope and joy in life, a chance to take time to meet with the neighbors, worship together and forge lifelong friendships. I wonder if they hold services regularly here anymore?

This bell has rung for many generations, calling and inviting the locals to attend the service. 

The Danish altarpiece in this church is from 1616.

I hope this little bell rings for centuries to come, inviting people to come to listen….to reflect….to make new promises….to carry on the traditions….to continue to make history…..

As for us, we are maybe not making history, but rather we are making memories on this day…..we have got to hit the road, for we have places to go and places to see. My original plan for today was to take an F-road across the Icelandic highlands, however, I have sworn off the F-roads for now. Driving to Askja was sufficiently anxiety provoking that I am not interested in subjecting myself to that again. Plus there is no way to know how long it would take to drive those roads across the country. I think we will just keep on the Ring Road heading east and then south towards Reykjavik. 

When our rubber meets the road we settle in for a  beautiful drive, the trailer obediently following behind us. I am relieved… more F-roads… more crazy river crossings….I feel good about our choice. Let’s see if I can find any other entertaining places to stop at along the way.