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

Since the cloister was built around 1500 and these ruins lay just above a thick tephra layer from the 1477 Veiðivötn eruption, it seemed obvious that the cloister had been found. After this discovery, ten years of digging started in 2002, following a coordinate system and completely excavating several grid sections every summer. Today, this cloister is the only one in Iceland – and also the most northerly one in Europe – to have been completely excavated..

Ten-year digs

The Skriðuklaustur excavation lasted ten years. Every summer a group of archaeologists would dig for 8 to 9 weeks and some work was contributed by experts in other fields. To start with, research focused on excavating the remains of the church and other buildings, and finding out about the monks’ daily lives. Special efforts were made to find evidence of their literary work, in keeping with accepted ideas on Icelandic cloisters. However, the study focus soon switched to the cloister cemetery, which turned out to be an important source of information on daily medieval life, the health of commoners and the facilities for charity and nursing.

The cloister buildings

Most of the Skriðuklaustur buildings appear to have been erected during a continuous construction phase in the 1490s, although the church was built later and consecrated in 1512. The oldest building might be the lodging quarters by the cloister gate. Since the founders of medieval cloisters emphasized charity and care, they often put up the lodging quarters first of all. Forming a core around which other operations revolved, such quarters represented a shelter for travelers and pilgrims, besides being a haven for the sick and poor seeking mercy at such cloisters. Later buildings were then added around these lodgings.

In total, the buildings here covered over 1500 square meters – considerably more than most medieval Icelandic farms, even wealthy ones. In addition to a church and cemetery bounded by a stone wall, there were a variety of cloister rooms which differed in size and type, comprising a sleeping section, a kitchen section with a separate dining area, and a section with work and storage facilities..


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