SkálholtThe First Bishop Manor.
In the year 1000 A.D., Christianity became the state religion of Iceland. The first bishop was inaugurated in 1056. His name was Ísleifur Gissurarson and he was the most learned man in the country at the time, probably educated in Germany. There was no official estate attached to the bishops office, so Ísleifur resided at the manor his father had left him, where he established a school for priests. The name of the manor was Skálholt. Ísleifurs son, Gissur, became a bishop after his father's death.
He donated Skálholt to the Icelandic nation, establishing it as a permanent residence for bishops at this elegant and convenient site. He strengthened the prosperity of the church, brought about decimal surtax and established yet another bishops office, for the northern part of the country, at Hólar in Hjaltadal. Along with the increasing influence of the Church, the importance of Skálholt grew further, although it was already the greatest countryseat in Iceland and a spiritual center as well. Apart, from the two weeks each year, when the parliament (Althing) assembled, it was the heart of Iceland and its actual capital. Skálholt was a populous place according to Icelandic standards. Between two and three hundred people stayed there every winter and the general public crowded there at major festivals. A majestic wooden church was built there; even taller than the contemporary church building that is standing there at present. The Icelandic Church was quite independent in its time, but after Icelanders became Norwegian citizens in 1263, most of the bishops were foreign.
In 1550 Icelanders converted to Lutheranism and became Protestants. The reformation came about at Skálholt and the New Testament was translated into Icelandic. Gissur Einarsson was the first Lutheran bishop at Skálholt, but Jón Arason at Hólar the last Catholic bishop. He was arrested and beheaded at Skálholt, along with his two sons, in 1550. The king of Denmark obtained a great deal of the properties, which formerly belonged to the church, and of course it weakened the status of the bishops office. Then, to make matters even worse, disasters and volcanic eruptions plagued the country at the end of the eighteenth century. Much of the life stock died and most of the houses collapsed in a major earthquake. Consequently the bishop moved to Reykjavík and at the turn of the next century Skálholts history ended. It was not until around the middle of the twentieth century that a new interest was aroused in restoring the dignity of Skálholt. A new church was built and opened to the public in 1963, and a deputy bishop has had a permanent residence there since 1992. Skálholt is one of the most important places in the history of Iceland and deeply respected as well.
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