Previous Exhibitions

Churches of Iceland: as seen by museum directors and a bishop

During the 20th century, Iceland‘s churches and ecclesiastical objects were studied by three people, each of whom kept records in pictorial form. A selection of pictures by the three researchers provides an insight into Icelandic church buildings and the cultural heritage manifested in them.

Some of the first research undertaken by Matthías Þórðarson during his time as director of the National Museum focussed on ecclesiastical objects in all Iceland‘s churches. He made detailed inventories and registers of the ecclesiastical objects in each church, determining their age and aesthetic value. In addition he sometimes took photographs of the objects, generally grouped together atop the altar.

As Bishop of Iceland in the early 20th century, the Right Rev. Jón Helgason visited the majority of Iceland‘s churches. He travelled with a sketchpad, and made drawings of various churches and their surroundings. Occasionally he drew a church in its setting in a village or town. Some of the drawings are coloured with watercolour or wax crayons, and some have pencil-shading. The church pictures testify to the bishop‘s artistic talent.

On his travels around Iceland, National Museum Director Þór Magnússon visited churches; at that time the conservation of ecclesiastical objects and grave markers was under the aegis of the National Museum. Þór consulted the registers of ecclesiastical goods compiled by his predecessors, and added to them. He also took photographs of both churches and objects. During Þór‘s time in office a major awakening took place in Iceland regarding the conservation of historic buildings – churches no less than secular structures – and many of Þór‘s photographs are evidence of that development.