Churches and floated wood

Isolated country within the limits of North Atlantic, Iceland was only belatedly mentioned in the writings of Scandinavian sailors and Irish monks. However, the “Norse”, Norwegian Vikings, were the first to settle down definitively there in the year 874 A.C. The latter fled their region, too dangerous and populated, when they discovered this isolated but green and timbered island. Farmers, shepherds and merchants for the majority, Norses were pagan. Animists above all, they believed however in many divinities directly resulting from Scandinavian mythology.

Under the influence of Olaf the First, a Norwegian king recently converted to Christianity, the island became officially Christian in the Xth century. Two bishop's palaces are then created and placed under the direction of the archbishop's palace of Norway. In 1541, whereas the Lutheran reform is spreading throughout Europe, Iceland, under Danish domination, becomes a Protestant nation.

Eglise de Skalafell, Hornstarndir

Iceland is still Protestant today, a religion which gathers nearly 90% of the country's population. Although a majority of Icelanders is favorable to a separation between the Church and the State, many churches on the territory still benefit from public financing, which causes many debates within the society.

Chapelle de Breidavik, Islande   Skaftafell, Islande

The visitor can only be challenged by the significant number of worship places on the Icelandic territory. Churches are present everywhere, even in the most secluded areas : the bottom of a fjord, a lost coastline beaten by the winds, the edge of a deserted road… Their disseminated presence testifies to the Icelandic way of life. With a density close to the 3 inhabitants per square km, a large part of Iceland is scarcely inhabited. Half of the population is concentrated around Reykjavik, while the other half is scattered along the isolated coasts of the island. Driven out by difficult living conditions, many Icelanders recently left their dwellings for the capital, leaving behind whole boroughs and villages to abandonment. In the middle of these deserted farms, wood churches are still standing, sole witnesses of this past life when small communities still were fighting daily the powerful nature of the far North.

Raudissandur, Islande   Eglise de Myrar
If they are next to the ruins for many, the churches are however maintained perfectly. A very close attention is paid to the few buildings made out of wood. The latter testifies indeed to that time of the past when Icelanders built their churches with the wood of their island's forests.
Raudissandur, Islande   Eglise de Myrar

Indeed, if the first Vikings found green forests in this island, it is unfortunately not the case anymore. Today, only two forests exist on the Icelandic territory. Threatened natural inheritance, they are protected from any commercial exploitation.

Moreover, don't the Icelanders often say that if you lose your way in their forests, you just have to stand up !

  Cimetière de Glaumbaer, Islande

Several factors explain this massive deforestation. The intervention of man in this preserved environment remains obviously one of the main causes. The first inhabitants settled in the country indeed used wood for heat, but also to build dwellings and fishing vessels, essential tools of their survival. It is also supposed that many trees were cut down for the sheep to nourish on young growths. It is thus very quickly that an important part of the forests disappeared. In full wood shortage, it was necessary to find a material of substitution sufficiently noble to build up churches worthy of their Faith.

Chapelle abandonnée de Furufjordur, Hornstrandir   Cimetière des West Fjords

Icelanders then searched for the only reserve of wood available in sufficient quantity… Coming from Siberia, it is after a long drift through the Arctic Ocean that broad trunks were driven ashore on the Iceland's coasts. Thus, floated wood represented an inexhaustible resource thanks to powerful currents of the North that supplied them each year. A number of Icelandic churches were thus built in isolated areas with the wood collected on the shores. It is to respect this spirit, but to also to perpetuate a practice which became a true Icelandic tradition, that wooden churches are still restored today with floated wood.

Cimetière de marins français, West Fjords

  e Breidavik, Islande
Perceived as God's gift because floated wood was found every day on the beaches and shores of many Icelandic fjords, it allowed the construction of many churches. Thanks to this new material, Icelanders could especially establish their places of worship in some of the most isolated areas…
Tombe de Eivindur Jönsson, Hornstrandir
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