Saga Spots: Krosshólar - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Saga Spots: Krosshólar

Saga Spots: Krosshólar

Published August 10, 2017

Eli Petzold
Photo by
Reykjavík Grapevine Archives

With not so much as a gas station along the road, the peninsula that juts out into Breiðafjörður between Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords is a seldom-visited region in Western Iceland. A dirt road branches out from Route 60 just north of Búðardalur, hugging the peninsula’s perimeter as it passes through the few small settlements and farms that dot the coasts. Although the region boasts no proper towns today, the estate of Hvammur—one of Iceland’s most prominent medieval settlements—remains an active farm to this day. It was here that Snorri Sturluson, the polymath who authored the Prose Edda, was born in 1179. And three centuries before Snorri’s birth, it was here that Auður the Deep-Minded, one of Iceland’s most storied settlers, made her home.

A woman and a Christian, Auður stands out amidst the boys’ club of pagan settlers catalogued in the thirteenth-century Landnámabók (“Book of Settlements”). After bopping around Ireland, Scotland, and the Faroes, she made her way to Iceland, leaving a string of charmingly prosaic place names in her wake. She brunched on a spit of land jutting out from Fellströnd, which then became known as Dögurðarnes (“Breakfast Peninsula”). At her next stop, she lost her comb and thought it’d be cute to memorialize this mundane misfortune by naming the peninsula Kambsnes (“Comb Peninsula”).

 A woman and a Christian, Auður stands out amidst the boys’ club of pagan settlers catalogued in the thirteenth-century Landnámabók (“Book of Settlements”).

Settling at last at Hvammur, Auður got into the habit of climbing nearby craggy hills to say her prayers. She hallowed the area by erecting crosses, from which the hills took their name—Krosshólar (“Cross Hills”). More than a century before the nationwide acceptance of Christianity, however, her piety didn’t set a lasting precedent. After throwing herself a six-day funeral party that would put Berghain to shame, and insisting she be buried at the high tide line lest she be interred in heathen turf, she died and her descendants lapsed into paganism. Thereafter, her relatives found an altogether different significance in Krosshólar, performing sacrifices there and believing that their spirits would enter the hills upon death.

Although Auður didn’t manage to establish a lasting Christianity amongst her descendants, she is still remembered and celebrated as an early Christian pioneer in Iceland. In 1965, the local Women’s Society in Dalir unveiled a large stone cross atop Krosshólar in a service which purportedly drew 600 people. Inscribed with an excerpt from Landnámabók, the cross commemorates Auður’s devotion at the site, omitting mention of its subsequent pagan significance. It is, perhaps, an obscure destination, rendered salient by historical context rather than any of its intrinsic features. Nevertheless, Krosshólar does, indeed, provide a view across Hvammsfjörður towards Snæfellsnes and the valleys of Dalir. From this sweeping vista, it’s easy to see why this site first caught the attention of Auður and held the imagination of her descendants.

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