The Historical Society- Steini at Kjalarnes , Iceland is building an outdoor Celtic Altar at Esjuberg location. The first Christian church in Iceland is believed to have been build there around 900. The society is asking the public for support to finish the job.
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Keltneskt altari

  • Áfangi 1
  • Áfangi 2
  • Áfangi 3

Further Information

Outdoor Altar at Esjuberg - Stage 1. The center of the altar, a 11.000 kg rock is in place and the circle around it is being prepared.

Outdoor Altar at Esjuberg - Stage 2. The plan is to finish stage 2 before the end of 2017.

Outdoor Altar at Esjuberg - Stage 3. The plan is to finish stage 3 before the end of 2018.

Outdoor Altar at Esjuberg - Kjalarnes - Stage 2.

This is a drawing of the altar in stage 2 in location.

Cost Estimate
Stage 1
Estimated Costs: 2.545 EUR.
Real Cost: 1.990 EUR.
Financed with grants and gifts.
Finished in June 2016.

Cost Estimate
Stage 2
Estimated Costs: 23.390 EUR.
Grant from Kjalarnes Deanery: 8.475 EUR.
Public fund raising (crowd funding) through Karolina Fund: 15.000 EUR.
Estimated finishing time: December 2017.

Cost Estimate
Stage 3
Estimated Costs: 10.550 EUR.
Estimated Finishing Time: 2018.

Steini, Historical Society.

Steini, Historical Society was founded in January 2010. The purpose of the society is to collect historical material about place names, lore, and archaeological remains related to the area of Kjalarnes and make it accessible. The activity of the society is completely volunteer-based. The name of the society is in dedication to a beloved teacher in the local school Klébergsskóli, Þorsteinn Broddason (called Steini) who taught there from1999-2009. He was interested in the history of Kjalarnes and an avid supporter of the idea of establishing a historical society in Kjalarnes. He had, for example, envisioned a panoramic point at Kléberg which now has been set up. The main projects of the society have been the making of informational signs located at historical sites and points of interest at Kjalarnes as well as the organization of meetings and lectures on various historical topics, for example the Celtic influence of settlers sailing to Iceland from the British Islands.

Picture taken at the Groundbreaking - ceremony, May 8 2016.

Why an altar at Esjuberg ?

What is the story?

Accounts exist about a church located at Esjuberg at Kjalarnes around 900, a century or so before the formal introduction of Christianity in Iceland. In the Book of Settlements (Sturlubók Landnámabókar) it says that Örlygur Hrappsson received from Bishop Patrick of the Hebrides “wood for church building, an ironbell, plenarium and a consecrated soil” which he should use for building a church at the location of his settlement, dedicated to St Columba. Örlygur built a church at Esjuberg on Kjalarnes. (“He had a church built there, as instructed.”)

Another testimony about a church at Esjuberg is found in the14th century work Kjalnesinga saga: “At that time the church built by Örlygur at Esjuberg was still standing, but nobody paid any attention to it.”)

A church at Esjuberg is also mentioned in an inventory of churches made by Bishop Páll Jónsson around 1200: “Church at Esjuberg.”

Nothing is known about the precise location of the church at Esjuberg and it is probable that any traces left of it were destroyed by landslides, believed to have fallen from Mt Esja in the 17th and 19th centuries, altering the landscape. An archaeological investigation was carried out at Esjuberg in 1981 which showed landslides had covered most of the archaeological remains from earlier centuries including that of the church. No traces of a church or a cemetery were discovered in the investigation.

What was the initial idea?

At the annual church assembly of the Icelandic National Church in 1976 a motion was made that the cemetery at Esjuberg in Kjalarnes should be investigated to further explore the residence of Irish monks (“papar”) in Iceland before the Nordic settlement. Ever since, it has been regularly brought up that this historical heritage should receive the honor it deserves in a manifest way.

What for?

The altar will be sanctified according to Christian customs as a sacred place and a memorial of Örlygur’s church, the first church to have been erected in Iceland according to written record. In recent years, services have been held at Esjuberg in relation to the local festivities of Kjalarnesdagar and it can be assumed that the number of Christian ceremonies will only increase after the altar has been put into formal use.

The altar will be available for use by anybody who is qualified and wishes to carry out a Christian ceremony there, e.g. baptism, marriage, prayer services, meditation, etc.

The main purpose of the outdoor altar at Esjuberg is to raise awareness of an important historical site where the first church in Iceland may have stood. Esjuberg is located close to one of the most popular location for outdoor activities in Reykjavík, Mt Esja, where nature meets the city. In such a context, church history and outdoor activities can be played together in avid way, by offering the opportunity of Christian religious practices in nature. Furthermore, many will want to marry or have their children baptised in the open air at this oldest church site in the country.

Who owns the altar?

Steini, Historical Society. The project is a cooperation between Steini Historical Society and Brautarholt Parish.

Why a Celtic Cross on the Altar?
The picture shows St John's Cross at the monastery of Iona, which belongs to the Inner Hebrides on the western coast of Scotland. The cross is a Celtic solar cross and is dedicated to the disciple John. Settlers from the Scottish islands chose Kjalarnes as the location for their new home, including Örlygur Hrappsson, who is said to have built a church at Esjuberg. Solar crosses - with a circle around their center - have been characteristic of Celtic Christianity since its earliest stages. The oldest preserved Celtic Crosses are date to the 6th century. The circle refers to the sun and the stars and a sanctified space on earth. The cross inside the circle indicates that God, the creator of the sun and of the wonders of heaven and earth, reveals himself in Christ as sacrificing love.

The altar's location seen from Mount Esja and its location only 15-20 minutes drive from Reykjavík.

Cross-section of the altar (numbers are in mm).

Picture taken in mid june 2017. People from the Steini-Historical Society collecting stones and rocks for the building of the altar.

A mass was held at the altar's location during local festivities on Kjalarnesdagar, 25th of June.

In mid June the work started on the outer wall of the altar as can be seen in this photo.

Seeking funding

This project will only be funded if €15000 or more is pledged before 2017-08-05 00:00 UTC.

Fund this project


raised of €15,000 goal.


days to go.


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