Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reflections from Iceland (part 2)

From the old church we moved on to the graveyard beside the church. Among those interred in the graveyard was Snorri Sturluson, buried there in 1241. Beside the graveyard were the remains of Snorri’s 13th century house. Snorri was one of the greatest of Iceland’s storytellers, relating the stories of the old gods, the Kings of Norway, and the rules of writing poetry. He was also a successful lawyer, elected the lawspeaker of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, in 1215. He was something of an engineer, building the first “hot pot” outside his home in Reykholt. The “hot pot” was a thermal bath using geothermal water to make was is essentially a stone hot tub. The “tub” is still in existence, and still hot.
Snorri chose wrong, however, in the 1220’s. He allied with the King of Norway, Håkon IV, and advocated a union with Norway. Civil war followed. In the civil war Snorri found himself allied against Håkon, and in favor of jarl Skuli. Skuli lost the war. Snorri petitioned to return to Iceland and was refused. He went regardless of the King’s demand that he remain in Norway, an act Håkon found bordering on treason. Unable to trust Snorri, the King engaged in a plot against the great skald, and in 1241 one of Snorri’s opponents led a raid on his home in Reykholt, resulting in Snorri’s assassination.
After touring the remains of the home, the cellar where he was assassinated, the secret passage from the home to the hot pot, and the hot pot, Pastor Waage took us into the beautiful, modern church and museum display. Here the Pastor demonstrated the unusual singing style that was, and remains, common in Icelandic Lutheranism, inviting us to join him in the 100 verses (in Icelandic) in praise of Mary the Mother of God.
How is this typical of our month in Iceland, you ask?
As I said at the start it has all the elements of our four weeks in country, except waterfalls. Everywhere we toured we were surrounded by this amazing sense of the history of the country – both the thousand year history and the immediate history of life following the financial meltdown of 2008. This was the second most historic spot in our month in country (the most historic was Thingvellir, the site of the Allthingi).
It had a thermal pool. The pools of Iceland were a major focus. Several of the group made it part of their mission in Iceland to visit a pool in every town.  As far as I know they were successful. But even beyond the municipal pool, every home had its “hot pot.”
It had a “thermal” pool. This one was constructed in the early 13th century, it was one of the first uses of geothermal energy in the country. That was a major theme of this trip. We visited thermal power plants in and around Reykjavik. We saw the pipes for hot water running across the hillsides outside Akurerie, we wandered into the steam outside Borganes. We even visited a hothouse heated by thermal hot springs, growing cucumbers in just six weeks.
It was connected to an educational institution, had a closed school on the grounds, and was an educational morning overall. Education was one of the major themes of the trip. Since four of the five of us are educators, we were introduced to schooling in Iceland everywhere we went. We visited a primary school in Hafnadfjördur. We visited a secondary school in Selfoss. We visited tertiary education all over the country. Education was a major part of our month in Iceland.
Finally, it was, despite being historical, supported by a high tech museum. In the new church, in the basement of the library, was a high, high tech display about Snorri and Reykholt. Truth be told, by the time we heard about the conversion of the Icelanders, the problems of the Reformation, and Snorri’s death, we did not have time to visit the museum display. But there it was.

(still more in the third post)

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