The (mostly concrete) churches of Reykjavík

So when we were in Reykjavik we looked at a lot of churches,

Whoa—plot twist! Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

For a brief look back at Iceland’s church heritage, here’s a turf church from 1842 that we saw in the Árbær Open Air Museum.

The wooden Mosfell Church in South Iceland was built in 1848.

So, if you’re thinking that the more recently built churches in Reykjavik are similarly somber, small-scaled constructions of natural materials…uh, I’ve got news for you.

The iconic

The phallic

The are-you-sure-it’s-really-Lutheran

The emphatically concrete


Hallgrímskirkja has been the terminating vista of many a Reykjavik city view since it was completed in the late 1980’s (after more than 40 years of construction.)

Architect Guðjón Samúelsson was a state architect trying create a style of architecture unique to Iceland. Did he succeed? I don’t know, but I think a bold landscape calls for bold architecture and when it came to Hallgrímskirkja Samúelsson was not fudging around.

Hallgrímskirkja’s interior is kinda meh: my favorite part was the pew design.

I would think the Catholic’s would have Reykjavik’s most flamboyant church, but actually the main Catholic cathedral (also by Guðjón Samúelsson) is more traditional. Traditional, but with a big concrete embrace.

The rather predictable Gothic revival style is relieved by these columns. My guide book says Samúelsson was inspired by Icelandic rock formations, but I know art deco when I see it.

Here’s Háteigskirkja, notable for pointy towers on the outside, and on the inside….you’ll never guess…

Disco columns!

Closest in spirit to the two earliest churches, Kirkja Óháða safnaðarins doesn’t go overboard on scale.

And finally, my favorite, Seltjarneskirkja.

I couldn’t find much information about this Lutheran beauty, but surely its design was inspired by the snow-capped mountains in the distance. As homey as a concrete church could feel, Seltjarneskirkja was nailing it. Maybe a nod to tradition with the buttresses and the bell tower, but most successfully the original architecture Iceland’s landscape deserves.


  1. Seltjarneskirkja it is (if I can get the name to roll off my tongue).

    Hallgrímskirkja reminded me of Finland’s downtown. Jugendstil is what it looks like. Pretty late for that style though

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perhaps it is in the tradition of a broader Scandinavian modern?

      Now I need to go to Finland, thanks a lot 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Could be, but Stockholm is not like that. But yes, Finland is a good idea.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The catholic oner resembles some in Costa Rica i n style..though these are concrete coveringmetal plates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What are they made of in Costa Rica?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Depends on the area and the date. Older ones are wooden – we have some super examples locally. Where there are larger settlements, then often themetal skeleton covered in concrete…more modern are concrete. they are worth a study…..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess Icelanders tend to be more sleek in design interiors. Those gold disco columns are unreal. But probably same as gold altars what one might see in certain old European catherals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a smart connection to make, Jean. Didn’t even occur to me!

      Liked by 1 person

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