29 December 2019

The church built on ancient fire

Nestled in the southernmost region of Iceland's Snæfellsnes Peninsula sits Búðir (Búdir), a small hamlet made up of a couple old buildings, a hotel and a solitary church. Long ago, Búðir was once a prosperous commercial and fishing village and one of the Snæfellsnes' most active trading posts. Remnants of a bustling port throughout the area suggests it dates back all the way to Iceland's earliest settlement. Now, it prospers economically due to tourism.
Búðir is located in the expansive lava fields of Búðahraun, its land rich with flora and tall, wind-swept grass. Over 130 plant species call Búðahraun home, including rare and protected species.
 Like most of the places we visited, getting to Búðakirkja (Búdir church) was quite easy. From Reykjavik it's a beautiful 2-hour drive along Route 1 and Route 54. From there you drive onto Útnesvegur heading towards Arnarstapi, and shortly after a small sign leads you through Búðavegur, which you follow all the way to the end. It does turn into a narrow road, but even with all of the ice it was well-maintained. Since it is a very popular tourist destination, I imagine the road is difficult to maneuver around buses and travelers during peak hours. We were very fortunate that there was only one other car when we arrived.
The sun was already beginning to set, which covered the snow in a beautiful pink color. The parking lot, however, was covered in ice! It made it difficult to walk around without slipping.
It's worth noting that the current church we see today is actually a restored and slightly relocated 1987 version of the old Danish design, its specifications and measurements based off of clerical documents from the 1850s and old photographs. The first Búðakirkja was a small turf chapel built by Swedish-born merchant Bendt Lauridsen in 1703. Local tale has it that when its location was being decided, an old woman suggested someone spin in circles for some time before shooting three arrows into the air. One of the arrows would be marked, and wherever it landed, the church would be built on that spot. At some point, the chapel was torn down and a new one was built in its place. The church was then dismissed and deconsecrated in 1816, eventually being torn down again.

One lady of the parish, Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, fought strongly for a new church, but her and several other residents' requests were denied. It wasn't until 1847 that, thanks to her continued efforts, a new church was built in 1848 — on the condition that the village of Búðir would fund and maintain the church entirely. According to the plaque at the site, on the back of the door ring is a testament to Steinunn's dedication and her struggle for the new church's reconstruction: "This church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers." 

Despite its rough history and several iterations, it is still considered one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland. A couple of artifacts from the original chapel have survived to this day thanks to Steinunn's care as well, such as the original door ring etched by Bendt Lauridsen himself. I would love to know what the etching says, but my limited knowledge did not get me far in translation.

 As to its unique and striking black color, the exterior is coated with pitch tar to protect the wood cladding from harsh weather. There are several other churches in Iceland also painted pitch-black, but to my knowledge Búðakirkja is known as the black church amongst tourists.
The pure white door framed against the black walls of the church.

My mom and I were the only ones at the church for quite some time, so all you could hear was the echoes of the snow crunching under our boots. There's a unique stillness and peace in the air when it comes to churches and cemeteries, and I'm thankful I got to experience that with this visit. 
Hótel Búðir from the parking lot. There are many weddings that happen at the church nowadays.
Narrow pathways lead every whichway from the church. Because it was getting late and we had a few more stops to make, we weren't able to hike down to the beach. Maybe next time. :)

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