The Chapel

The chapel at Kirkjubæjarklaustur was consecrated in 1974. It was built in the memory of reverend Jón Steingrímsson, fire cleric (1728-1791). He said the famous Eldmessa (Fire Mass) on July 20, 1783 in the church in Klaustur. Many believe that the Eldmessa stopped the stream of the lava that threatened habitation at the time. The place where the stream of lava stopped is now called Eldmessutangi and is to the west of Systrastapi, but the chapel is situated a little to the east of the old church site. A church was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur up until 1859 when it was decided to move the church to the parsonage at Prestbakki, due to dust inflation. The old cemetery in Kirkjubæjarklaustur was fenced in with a concrete wall. There are a few gravestones in the cemetery, among them one at the grave of reverend Jón Steingrímsson and his wife Þórunn. The ruins of the old church, where Eldmessa was said, can also be seen there.

The idea of building a monument at the gravestone of reverend Jón and his wife Þórunn first arouse in 1933. However, it wasn't until July 10, 1966 that the idea started to become realized. On that day, a meeting was held in preparation for a commemoration to mark the 175th anniversary of reverend Jón's passing on. There, it was decided to build a small church that would serve as both a chapel and a monument. For this to happen, money needed to be raised and farmers in Skaftafell were asked for donations. It was decided that each farmer would be asked to give one lamb every year for the next six years, so that the chapel could be built. Before the commemoration, on August 7 the same year, over 100 farmers had pledged to make such a donation. Many other big and small donations followed in the next years.


The brothers Helgi and Vilhjálmur Hjálmarsson, architects, were recruited to design the chapel. They both donated their work and Helgi also donated work on supervising the construction. The chapel is considered very beautiful and a good testament to its designers' work.
The brothers Siggeir and Valdimar Lárusson donated to the chapel the use of 5 kw of electricity from their home power station and promised that they would continue to do so as long as they lived. Their descendants have upheld that promise. It took five years to build the chapel, from the time ground was broken on June 8, 1969. For the next five years the lambs that were donated, voluntary work, further donations and gifts from all over the country ensured that it was possible to keep building the chapel and consecrate it on June 17, 1974.


Reverend Jón Steingrímsson was considered to have a strong understanding of nature's character and abilities to interpret is. There are two events in his lifetime that are considered particularly remarkable. The Eldmessa, that stopped the stream of lava, and the prayer he said when 40 destitute people from adjacent districts were dismissed from their districts and came to Skaftafellssýsla. Reverend Jón then said a prayer for the people and proceeded with collecting handouts for the people and was more successful than he had hoped. The people would have had to endure starvation and hard times if it had not been for him, and some of the people almost certainly would have starved to death. According to the Icelandic church, there aren't many stories that are as powerful, clear and reliable narratives of the value and power of religion and prayer as the ones associated with reverend Jón Steingrímsson and the church in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.