Grímsey church destroyed by fire

22.09.2021 - 10:56
Mynd: Sigurður Henningsson / RÚV
The church on Grímsey island was completely destroyed by fire last night. The fire consumed the timber building just before midnight and it was not possible to save anything from inside. The cause of the fire is still unclear, but nobody was believed to be in the building when it started.

Miðgarðarkirkja, the church on the island of Grímsey—the only part of Iceland that crosses the Arctic Circle—was built in 1867. It was moved slightly in 1932 to reduce the risk of fire and a chancel and narthex added, with a small tower. The church was comprehensively renovated in 1956 and it was re-consecrated. 

“It was of course just awful. People there at home have so many memories from that building, as can be expected; both joy and grief,” says Alfreð Garðarson, who sits on the parish council. 

Alfreð says it was immediately clear the church was fully ablaze and that there was little that could be done to save it. The parish council has not yet decided what the next step will be. He says the community centre can be used for church services temporarily.  

"There were so many beautiful things there. The deacon who was with us in the middle of the last century carved a baptismal font and various very beautiful treasures,” Alfreð says. “And then there was all the other things the church had there, such as guest books from the olden days, and all sorts of things.” 

Svavar Gylfason, the head of the fire brigade on Grímsey, says the church disappeared in no time. When fire fighters arrived, the tower was totally ablaze. The electric fuses are at the base of the tower. 

“It was an ugly sight and there was very little that could be done. I received a call from my sister-in-law who I think was the first to notice the fire. I ran straight out to the car and we went straight to gear up at the fire station. But there was really nothing we could do because the fire was that big,” Svavar says. “We started trying to protect the next-door building, Miðgarður. There was a lot of wind and we sprayed the embers. It progressed really quickly: in maybe 20 minutes the church was basically gone.” 

Any suspicion of what caused the fire? 

“I feel there is nothing but electricity that comes to mind. There were no candles lit because of the weather. I felt the fire was most in the tower when we arrived at the scene, and that’s where the fuses are. It was really stormy last night. Nearly all Grímsey residents were following events,” Svavar adds. 

He says it was difficult to watch the church disappear: “It has both historical and cultural value. It was beautiful and was an attraction for people visiting Grímsey.” Svavar says police and investigators are expected on the island today, if weather allows planes to land.

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