From Iceland — Words of Interest: That Big Church

Words of Interest: That Big Church

Published May 12, 2016

Words of Interest: That Big Church
Photo by
Eunsan Huh

Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most – if not the most – recognisable figure in Reykjavík’s modest skyline. The basalt column-inspired structure is the largest church in Iceland and took over 40 years to build. “Hallgrímskirkja” means “Church of Hallgrímur,” after Hallgrímur Pétursson, a poet and big “it” guy during the Icelandic Lutheran scene of the 1600s. He’s best known for writing the “Passion Hymns”, a chronicle of Jesus’s suffering and crucifixion.

Before he made a name for himself as a man of God, Hallgrímur reportedly ran away to Denmark to become a blacksmith. There he fell into the good graces of Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson (another famous Icelandic Christian), who sponsored Hallgrímur’s education.

While he was abroad, Hallgrímur was tasked with “re-Christianising” some poor Icelanders who had been kidnapped by North African pirates. Among these captives was a lady named Guðríður Símonardóttir. Hallgrímur fell in love with her and later put a ring on it.

(The Icelandic word for pirate is “sjóræningi” which literally means “sea robber”)

Hallgrímur came to a bit of a miserable end, falling victim to leprosy, but it is said that his suffering only made him a stronger, more faithful believer. His legacy lives on not only through his words, but through the numerous tourists who visit his namesake church every year to take Instagram-worthy aerial photos of Reykjavík from the observation deck (18400 hashtags and counting!)

Every Single Word in Icelandic is a pictographic exploration of the Icelandic language. I find an interesting compound word, then deconstruct and illustrate it as icons. The goal is to express how Icelandic can be deadpan literal and unexpectedly poetic at the same time.

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