Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 14: Landakotskirkja & The National Museum of Iceland

Today has been a quiet day here for us. We had brunch at Durum before going to Landakotskirkja (the Basilica of Christ the King), whose bookstore was reputed to be open after the 10:30 a.m. Mass. We weren't able to find anything other than a few books and postcards for sale, but this was probably the Mass we should have attended; said in both Latin and Icelandic, it was presided over by two priests and the bishop, who blessed everyone on his way out, especially the small children and babies.

The Mass we were planning on attending didn't start for another hour and a half, so we took a stroll through the neighborhood, and discovered Hólavallagarður cemetery, which had been consecrated in 1838 (by 1932 all plots had been allocated). It was peaceful, full of trees and bushes, green everywhere. One could take a very nice walk through the grounds, and I would have liked to see more of it.

We eventually went back to church to cool down and explore the building a bit. It's been honored by being granted the title of "basilica minor," but still quite a sight. 

Towards the back of the church was an Icelandic medieval wooden statue of the Holy Mother with the Child, believed to be from the 14th century, and donated in 1926. Other statues of saints (St. Anthony of Padua, St. Teresa of Lisieux, St. Louis de Montfort, and of course, St. Thorlak, the patron saint of Iceland and bishop of Skálholt from 1178 until his death in 1193) were displayed as well.
We decided to attend the Polish Mass (I've never been to a Polish Mass before and was curious). Every seat was taken, and then some - folks were standing in the back - which was surprising since we hadn't expected there to be such a large Polish Catholic population in Reykjavik. It was a lovely Mass with lots of singing, although the next surprise came when less than a quarter of the congregation took Communion.

After Mass we visited the National Museum of Iceland, which emphasized "The Making of a Nation."  There were two large floors of exhibits, with time frames focusing on 100-year to 200-year increments, beginning with the earliest settlements in 800 AD to present day; it was quite comprehensive. We had just under three hours there, but there was so much to see that we had to start making judgment calls about what we wanted to spend time looking at and reading.

I especially enjoyed the historical religious exhibits and Catholic rituals of the medieval church, specific periods history in which I've always been especially interested; there were religious artifacts from both before the Reformation and after, when the country became predominantly Lutheran. (Iceland converted to Christianity circa 1000 AD.)

Three excavated skeletons were also on display - a man, who had been buried with his horse and shield; a woman, who had been buried with various household items and jewelry; and an eight-month old baby, who had not been buried with anything. Each was an illustration of the differences in burial between men, women, and children (the last of which was apparently a rarity).

But something I found really fascinating was the research in progress that was studying the DNA of where the Icelandic people came from. DNA testing showed that just over 60% of Icelandic women were descended from those from the British Isles, while 80% of Icelandic men were descended from those in Scandinavian countries; Scandinavian men had essentially married Celtic women and migrated to Iceland.

We had an excellent seafood buffet at Restaurant Reykjavik for dinner tonight; it was a bit on the pricier side, but it was a treat to have a variety of both hot and cold dishes to try, and to sample a variety of desserts as well.

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