Tag Archives: Christian history

Beautiful Systrafoss

Back in the days before lava covered the best of Iceland and people had to move up onto the hills with their sheep…

… the priests of Kirkjubær …

The basalt column marks the old church.

… were famous for keeping a group of nuns, well, orphan girls for the most part, over at Kirkubærjarklaustur, for the pleasure that could be gained from that …

 

… in just the place the Irish monks (who were on Iceland before the Icelanders) were camping out in caves in the cliffs and living off bird eggs (and then abandoned because a bunch of noisy pagans and their Irish women [slaves aka wives] had moved into town), and I wonder, you know, if the priests didn’t choose the place because the falls are like a bridal veil.

Systrafoss

… that flows down the hill separately, splits around the rock (fine Christian symbolism there) and then unites as one — before flowing through the cloister. We’ll never know, but we do know that the young women were set to work embroidering cloth, and that Icelandic cloth was the best in the world. It would be a surprise if the amorous priests missed out on the symbolism, or didn’t point it out to the girls left in their charge. At any rate, the falls are beautiful, and richer for a history older than Iceland, even though the lava took all the best land away, some say to punish those lascivious priests.

Still, the land’s still good enough for zipping through on a tractor, so all is not lost.

When a State is a Church

Iceland is a church. The church below in Mosfellsbær is, in the Icelandic context, not a place of worship. Not really. It is a bond with ancestors who declared their faith in directing interhuman relationships through a  symbol of death and rebirth: death of individual selves fighting each other as representatives of raw physical power, and rebirth as people coming together to create and then draw from a concentrated form of subtler powers, both human and inhuman. At best, Icelanders used this energy to battle  common foes; at worst, they used it to express raw power relationships between each other. For over 1,000 years, it has remained the state. Notice how few other buildings are involved, and how this church is not in the middle of a settlement but in the middle of nature. One comes to it.