A divine legend

A legend tells of a 15th-century miracle here in the valley of Fljótsdalur. As was often the case, the Valþjófsstaðir priest rode his horse along the valley in order to attend to a dying parishioner. When he arrived, he discovered that he had lost everything he needed for the last sacrament, Extreme Unction, so a farm boy was sent looking. Following the well-worn trail, he was passing below the farmhouses at Skriða when he noticed the wine chalice standing full of wine on a grassy hummock, with the paten over it holding the bread. This was considered to be a miracle which, according to the legend, was commemorated by building a chapel here, with its altar located where the hummock had been. Somewhat later, the cloister was founded here.

The founding of Skriðuklaustur

The Skriðuklaustur cloister was the last one to be founded during Iceland’s Catholic period, i.e. shortly before the country’s 16th-century Reformation. It was thus active for less than six decades, and could scarcely be said to have flourished for more than about four decades. The deed of gift is still preserved whereby the couple Sesselja Þorsteinsdóttir and the local sheriff Hallsteinn Þorsteinsson, who lived on the other side of this valley at Víðivellir ytri, donated Skriða farm as the site for a cloister. Although this deed was signed on 8 June 1500, it is considered certain that the cloister was founded sooner, probably in 1493 when Stefán Jónsson, bishop at Skálholt, came on his first visitation to this valley.

The closure of the monastery

Skriðuklaustur had only been in operation for a short time when events began on the Continent that eventually resulted in the Reformation. At this time, Iceland was under the monarchy of Denmark, and in 1541, four years after Lutheran beliefs had been legally introduced there, religious structures were also officially reformed in the bishopric that included Skriðuklaustur. Although the king then took over the cloisters and their property, Skriðuklaustur was allowed to operate under exemption for over a decade. Formal operations finally ceased when the king leased the cloister and all its assets to a Lutheran pastor farther down the valley. The document to this effect was signed on 12 September 1554.
Everything indicates that the monastery buildings were simply allowed to fall into ruin after usable objects and wood had been removed. The church continued to stand, though, and was placed under the responsibility of the king's Skriðuklaustur agent. Gradually the church became delapidated, but a smaller one was erected over its ruins around 1670. The latter church was finally deconsecrated in 1792, although the cemetery had already fallen into disuse much sooner.

The heritage site

The heritage site of Skriðuklaustur was formally opened in August 2012, on the 500th anniversary of the monastic church. It is open year-round and visitors have a great view over the ruins from a platform situated above them. It is also possible to walk down to the site and into the ruins. Interpretive panels are available in English at the viewing platform and in each room of the monastic ruins.


In the summer of 2000, a preliminary site investigation was conducted in search of the cloister ruins. Some distance below the 20th-century mansion built by Gunnar Gunnarsson, church and cemetery ruins were visible that had been placed under legal protection in 1988. Furthermore, a 1901 drawing by the Danish explorer Daniel Bruun showed a few more ruins. Modern geophysical survey instruments and trial trenches soon revealed extensive ruins hidden under the grass outside the former cemetery walls



Ever since the excavation ended at Skriðuklaustur in 2012 all the findings from the dig have been researched, cataloged and shared through different media. In 2012 the first 3d model of the buildings was made by Vala Gunnarssdóttir, archaeologist.

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Connected Culture and Natural Heritage in a Northern Environment (CINE) aims to transform people’s experiences of outdoor heritage sites through technology, building on the idea of “museums without walls”. New digital interfaces such as augmented reality, virtual world technology, and easy to use apps will bring the past alive, it will allow us to visualise the effects of the changing environment on heritage sites, and help us to imagine possible futures.


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