Skaftßrhreppur and KirkjubŠjarklaustur

The Skaftárhreppur district, the eastern part of West Skaftafellssýsla,
stretches from the river Blautakvísl at Mýrdalssandur in the west, to the
 Sandgígjukvísl river at Skeiðarársandur in the east. The district derives 
its name from the Skaftá river, which rises beneath the Skaftárjökull
glacier and flows down to the sea at Veiðiós and Kúðaós. The river is about
115 kilometres in length. The Skaftárhreppur district was formed in 1990 with
 the unification of five rural districts: Hörgslandshreppur,
Kirkjubæjarhreppur, Leiðvallahreppur, Skaftártunguhreppur and 
Álftavershreppur.

The cornerstone of the local economy is agriculture and
 animal husbandry, while tourism is a growing sector. Kirkjubæjarklaustur is 
a centre of commerce, services and industry. The population of 
Skaftárhreppur is 467, as of December 1, 2008. The district spans a great
 variety of landscape and vegetation, with a natural environment of striking 
contrasts. Landscapes and vegetation in the district are quite varied, and the 
natural contrasts astounding. Skaftárhreppur enjoys a pleasant climate, with
 mild winters and warm, sunny summers.

Natural disasters such as volcanic
 eruptions and sudden floods from beneath the glacier have through the 
centuries shaped the nature and society of the region. In 1783, a huge lava
flow streamed from Lakagígar in what became known as  the “Laki eruption”. 
 This is believed to have been one of the greatest lava flows in a single
 eruption in the history of the world: the molten lava filled the gorges
through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in 
two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands where it laid
waste to many farms.

The eruption produced large quantities of volcanic ash.
For residents of the region, and Iceland as a whole, the results of the
eruption were catastrophic: this period is known as “Móðuharðindin” (the Haze 
Famine). Beneath the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap lies Mt. Katla, which has erupted
 repeatedly in historic times, most recently in 1918. Eruptions have also 
taken place in historic times in Eldgjá and under the Öræfajökull glacier,
as well as at smaller volcanic sites.
 Kirkjubæjarklaustur in Síða was known in olden times as “Kirkjubær” (Church
Farm) and was an important farming estate. Kirkjubæjarklaustur has developed
 into a village, the only centre of population in the district, with about
 120 inhabitants.

HS Klaustur 3

Kirkubæjarklaustur, often abbreviated to “Klaustur” is
 centrally located in the district. Roads radiate from Kirkjubæjarklaustur in
 many different directions. The Ring Road (No.1) runs through the district.
 The Laki road, just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, leads into the highlands.
The circular Landbrot/Meðalland road serves the southern part of the
district. The Fjallabak roads (north and south) lead from the Ring Road into
the interior via Skaftártunga. The Álftaver road is a circular route serving
 Álftaver on Mýrdalssandur.

Kirkjubæjarklaustur has a long and interesting
 history. Irish hermits, “papar,”  are believed to have lived at Kirkjubær
 before the Norse settlement of Iceland. Tradition says that it has always
been inhabited by Christians, and that pagans were unwelcome. The
 9th century settler Ketill the Foolish made his home at Kirkjubær. After
 Ketill’s time, Hildir Eysteinsson from Meðalland, a pagan, attempted to move
 to Kirkjubær. When he set foot on the estate, he fell down dead, and was
buried in Hildishaugur (Hildir’s Mound), a rocky hillock just east of
 Kirkjubæjarklaustur. In 1186, a Benedictine convent was founded at 
Kirkjubær. The convent was active until disbanded during the Reformation in
1550. Many local place names and folk tales reflect the presence of the nuns
and ecclesiastical history down the centuries.