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Thursday, October 30, 2014

'Old-Catholic Church' call to heal 'family conflict'

Old-Catholic Church called to healing of 'family conflict'

2014-10-30 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Following a historic first visit to the Vatican, the leader of the Old-Catholic Bishops' Conference, based in Utrecht, says the small world communion has a significant contribution to make to the conversation about Catholic identity, as well as to the wider ecumenical movement. At an audience with the delegation on Thursday, Pope Francis spoke of the "grave sins" on both sides which led to the break from Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries. He also urged Catholics and Old-Catholics to strengthen their desire for reconciliation in a spirit of conversion, based on mutual forgiveness and repentance.

Following that audience, Archbishop Joris Vercammen, head of the Old Catholic Church in Utrecht, talked to Philippa Hitchen about that history of division and about their goal of bringing new insights to the understanding of what it means to be part of the universal Catholic family today…


"The history of the dialogue with the Vatican started in 1966 with the openness Rome showed to this dialogue….in the year 2000 there was a breakthrough and we organised an international dialogue commission which produced a very interesting discussion on what it means to be Catholic…

We are a part of the Catholic family …but there is a family conflict…..we are really Catholic and in, the tradition of the first church, that means being churches connected to one another…..local churches, for us, are the most important cell of the universal church. Being Catholic means the free commitment of the local church to be connected to the other local churches, that's the way we see our identity and it's these ecclesiological insights that we are trying to contribute to Catholic ecclesiology….

It's a historic moment because we were always seen as being against the Roman Catholic Church, but we were never against, we have suffered under the separation….but in every crisis there is a calling. We are celebrating this year 125 years of the bishops' declaration of Utrecht…we don't celebrate separation but we want to celebrate this calling….

Unity is not about uniformity – also within the Roman Catholic Church one becomes more and more convinced of that fact, but if you say being Catholic is accepting diversity, then you have to organise your diversity….and I think you have to organise from the bottom up....on all levels you need a primacy but you have to embed that primacy within synodality….. "

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: The principal mission of the Church

The principal mission of the Church is evangelization, bringing the Good News to everyone.

Pope meets with 'Old Catholic' Bishops

Pope meets with leaders of Old Catholic Bishops Conference

2014-10-30 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday with a delegation of the Old Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Union of Utrecht, reflecting on the shared ecumenical journey since the group broke away from Rome in the 18th century over questions of papal authority. The group was led by the Archbishop of Utrecht Dr Joris Vercammen, president of the International Old Catholic Bishops Conference.

Philippa Hitchen reports

Noting that the International Dialogue Commission between Rome and the Old Catholic Church has helped build "new bridges" of mutual understanding and practical co-operation, Pope Francis said convergences and consensus have been found, and differences between the two groups have been more clearly identified. At the same time though, he said we are also saddened when we recognize "new disagreements" that have emerged on matters of ministry and ethical discernment, making the theological and ecclesiological questions harder to overcome.

The challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics, Pope Francis said, is to persevere in dialogue and to walk,  pray and work together in a deeper spirit of conversion.  Noting that there have been "grave sins" on the part of both sides, the Pope said in a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace.  The path towards unity begins with a change of heart,  he stressed and on the spiritual journey from encounter to friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, from brotherhood to communion, change is inevitable if we are willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

In the meantime, the Pope said, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in tackling the profound spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies, especially in Europe which is "so confused about its identity and vocation". There is an urgent need for a convincing witness to the truth and values of the Gospel, he said and in this we can support and encourage one another, especially at the level of parishes and local communities. The soul of ecumenism, Pope Francis said, lies in a "change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians." 

(from Vatican Radio)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pope Francis: Marriage never been more attacked

Pope Francis to Schoenstatt movement: Marriage never been attacked so much as now

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis said the institution of Christian marriage has never been attacked so much as nowadays where a temporary or throw-away culture has become widespread. He said marriage should not be seen just a social rite and urged priests to stay close to couples and especially children experiencing the trauma of a family break-up. The Pope was replying to questions put to him on a range of topics during an audience with more than 7000 pilgrims belonging to the Schoenstatt movement, an international Marian and apostolic organization that is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding in Germany.  The movement now embraces members, both lay and clerics, from dozens of nations around the world.

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges:   

Mistaken views about marriage and its true meaning, our temporary or throw-away culture, the need to be courageous and daring, Mary's missionary role, the disunity of the Devil and why the concept of solidarity is under attack.  These were just some of the wide-ranging issues which Pope Francis spoke about in his off-the-cuff remarks during the question and answer session with the Schoenstatt pilgrims held in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall on Saturday.

Asked about marriage and what advice he can offer to those who don't feel welcome in the Church, Pope Francis stressed the need for priests to stay close to each one of their flock without becoming scandalized over what takes place within the family.   He said a bishop during the recent Synod on the family asked whether priests are aware of what children feel and the psychological damage caused when their parents separate? The Pope noted how sometimes in these cases the parent who is separating ends up living at home only part-time with the children which he described as a "new and totally destructive" form of co-habitation.  

He said the Christian family and marriage have never been so attacked as they are nowadays because of growing relativism over the concept of the sacrament of marriage.  When it comes to preparing for marriage, Pope Francis said all too often there is a misunderstanding over the difference between the sacrament of marriage and the social rite. Marriage is for ever, he said, but in our present society there is a temporary or throw-away culture that has become widespread.  

Turning to the missionary role of Mary, the Pope reminded people that nobody can search for faith without the help of Mary, the Mother of God, saying a Church without Mary is like an orphanage. When questioned as to how he maintains a sense of joy and hope despite the many problems and wars in our world, Pope Francis replied that he uses prayer, trust, courage and daring. To dare is a grace, he said, and a prayer without courage or daring is a prayer that doesn't work.   

Asked about reform of the Church, the Pope said people describe him as a revolutionary but went on to point out that the Church has always been that way and is constantly reforming itself.  He stressed that the first revolution or way of renewing the Church is through inner holiness and that counts far more than more external ways such as reforming the Curia and the Vatican bank. Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of having a freedom of spirit and warned against closing ourselves up in a mass of rules and regulations, thus becoming a caricature of the doctors of law.  

The theme of our throw-away society was also touched on again by the Pope in another reply when he said our present-day culture is one that destroys the human bonds that bind us together. And in this context, he continued, one word that is at risk of dying in our society is 'solidarity' and this is also a symptom of our inability to forge alliances. Pope Francis also warned about the Devil, stressing that he exists and that his first weapon is disunity.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis meets Orientale Lumen Foundation

Pope Francis greets members of Orientale Lumen Foundation on ecumenical pilgrimaget

2014-10-25 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis said on Friday there is no authentic ecumenical dialogue without being ready "for an interior renewal" and the quest for a greater fidelity to Christ and his wishes.  His remarks came in an address at the Vatican to delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. 

The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is "absolutely essential" in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ. 

He expressed joy that the Foundation's ecumenical pilgrimage had chosen to commemorate the figures of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II and said this underlines the two Popes' great contribution towards developing closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. "The example of these two saints," he continued, "always bore witness to a strong passion for Christian unity."

Referring to his upcoming meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, during his visit to Turkey at the end of November, Pope Francis described this meeting as "a sign of the profound ties uniting the Sees of Rome and Constantinople"  and the desire "to overcome, through love and truth, the obstacles that still divide us."   

(from Vatican Radio)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

German Catholics wary about 2017 Luther festivities

Germany Catholics wary about major Luther festivities

Wed, Oct 31 2012

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - It's rare to be invited to an event five years off and even rarer to bicker about its details, but Germany's Catholic Church finds itself in that delicate situation thanks to an overture from its Protestant neighbors.

German Protestants are planning jubilee celebrations in 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's launching of the Reformation, a major event in the history of Christianity, of Europe and of the German nation, language and culture.

The Protestants have invited the Catholics to join in, a gesture in harmony with the good relations the two halves of German Christianity enjoy and the closeness many believers feel across the denominational divide.

But even after five centuries, being asked to commemorate a divorce that split western Christianity and led to many bloody religious wars is still hard for some Catholics to swallow.

"It's not impossible in principle, but it depends on the character of the events planned," Bishop Gerhard Feige, the top Catholic official dealing with Protestants, said in a statement for the Protestant Reformation Day holiday on Wednesday.

"Catholic Christians consider the division of the western Church as a tragedy and - at least until now - do not think they can celebrate this merrily," he wrote in the text outlining Catholic doubts about the event.


The Reformation began in 1517 when German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door to denounce corruption in the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences to help build the lavish new Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Excommunicated by Rome, he won support from German princes who soon battled others who remained Catholic. The ensuing wars of religion killed about a third of Germany's population over the next century and spread to neighboring countries as well.

After Luther's break with Rome, dissent spread and thousands of new denominations eventually emerged, the largest being the Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans.

Luther is also a major cultural figure in Germany thanks to his pioneering translation of the Bible, which shaped the German language as much as Shakespeare's plays influenced English.

Commemorative church services, concerts and conferences leading up to 2017 are already underway around Germany. There are also cultural events, such as a show of 800 plastic statues of Luther that filled the main square in Wittenberg in 2010.

This mix of religious, cultural and commercial activities led Feige to ask what the Catholics were being invited to join.

"Many initiatives and plans may well be justified, but it's not always easy to find out what 2017 will be all about," he wrote in what he called his "Ten Catholic Theses".

"It would be good if the Protestants would work out some points more clearly," he said.

Catholic-Protestant cooperation is a public issue in Germany, where the churches are equal in size and active in public life. Both run many schools and social services.

Intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants is common.

Prominent politicians from right and left recently issued a manifesto urging more progress towards overcoming their split.


While many Germans stress the similarities between the two, the churches remain quite distinct.

Catholicism is centralized under the Vatican in Rome and its teachings tend to be more conservative, while the Protestants are split into many local churches that range from conservative to liberal but value their freedom to govern themselves.

Feige said Catholics and Protestants had come closer to each other since the 16th century, especially since the reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council opened the Catholic Church to more contact with other faiths.

But there were still major differences between them on issues such as the office of the pope, the meaning of the eucharist and the role of the priest that could not be ignored.

Feige also found some Protestant depictions of the Reformation too positive, playing down the suffering and divisions it caused over the following centuries.

"It would be very helpful if both denominations could come to a common understanding of what happened," he said, suggesting they could find some way to "cleanse their memories".

Margot Kaessmann, a former Lutheran bishop who heads the preparations for the 2017 events, has said she wants Catholics to join in but turned down a Vatican suggestion both sides work out a common admission of guilt for the separation.

The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the main Protestant federation, plans to discuss the preparations for 2017 at its annual synod meeting next week.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

© Thomson Reuters 2012. All rights reserved

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

'Adopt a Christian from Iraq' campaign

"Adopt a Christian from Mosul": Archbishops' thanks as first aid arrives
by Amel Nona
Msgr. Amel Nona, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, who is also a refugee himself, thanks all the donors to the AsiaNews campaign. The situation is increasingly difficult given the huge number of refugees and the arrival of winter and snow, making outdoor shelters and tents impossible. The crisis, an occasion that activates the faith of Christians. 

Rome (AsiaNews) - Msgr. Amel Nona, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, who is currently a refugee in Kurdistan, has written us a letter thanking us for the first consignment of aid, which he accepted as President of the Bishop's Committee for aid distribution . The letter is addressed to AsiaNews, but the Archbishop thanks "every single donor" - and there are thousands - who have witness solidarity with their situation. This solidarity is important not only in economic terms, but also spiritually, because it means people understand the importance "that the Christians of this country have the right to live like other men, with dignity and in freedom".
The situation on the ground is still very dramatic and is becoming increasingly difficult: from the abject poverty to the dwindling of meagre resources, from the lack of housing for tens of thousands of people, to the onset of winter, with plummeting temperatures and snows which make any outdoor shelter or temporary tents uninhabitable.
Msgr. Nona and the Church in Kurdistan are making a huge effort to meet these needs, stretching themselves beyond all means given that the Church "is not a powerful international humanitarian organization." The Archbishop is hoping that a solution for the refugees may soon be found that will allow them to return to their homes taken over by the Islamic State militia. But he is particularly aware that prayer can transform "our crisis" into "an opportunity to unite all Christians, making us active in our faith".
Faced with the continuation of this emergency, we feel we must continue our campaign "Adopt a Christian from Mosul".  To help us help them all you have to do is click here and follow the instructions. Below, please find the text of Msgr. Amel Nona's letter: 

Fr. Bernardo Cervellera

"I want to let you know that September 9, 2014 I received the sum of 279,219 Euros sent by you through the "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" campaign to help our Christians in Mosul and the Nineveh plain who are now refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. 

As head of the bishops' committee that organizes humanitarian aid to Christians refugees, on my own behalf and on behalf of all the bishops who are members of this committee - Catholics and non-Catholics - I thank you and all the donors who have witnessed the reality of the Christian faith towards the human person, through the gift that you have offered to support the Christians of Iraq, in their dignity, in their lives. 

Our situation is really dramatic, because all of these people, our faithful have been stripped of everything: houses, property, jobs, churches, .. And have arrived in Kurdistan with nothing. 

Such a situation can be endured for a short period, but with the passage of time, without a solution to the area controlled by ISIS, many problems and difficulties emerge. 

People have lost confidence in the nation, in their own land, in their neighbors, in the authorities ... 
Humanitarian aid is dwindling with each passing day and the refugees feel increasingly in need. It is no longer possible to go on living in tents, or in public parks, or in schools because the season is changing and winter is knocking at the door. We have a lot of homeless people and not even a roof to cover them. 

We are trying to find a solution to the housing problem, but we cannot accommodate everyone because the numbers are huge: we are not a powerful international humanitarian organization, although all our Christians insistently ask us to help them. 

Our possibilities are limited because the whole country is going through a difficult phase of religious and ethnic division, accompanied by a real civil war and mutual distrust among the political and social parties. 

Ever since the first day of the crisis the Church has been doing everything possible to find a true and worthy response for her children. And we thank God that despite many difficulties we have organized at least for a while 'aid for our people, trying to give them the minimum to live as human beings, always hoping for a quick and just solution for our land. 

Your participation in solidarity, gives us strength not only because it helps us physically - and this is important - but also because we feel that we have Christian brothers and sisters close to us, who comprehend just how important it is that Christians in this country have the right to live like other men, with dignity and freedom. 

Once again I thank you all, praying to the Lord that our crisis is an opportunity to unite all Christians, making us active in our faith. 

May the Lord bless you 

+ Amel NONA 

Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans 

September 14, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

ICELAND Church History / Þjóðkirkjan -


From the very beginning of human habitation in Iceland, Christianity was there. In that respect, Iceland is unique, at least in European context. The first people setting foot on Icelandic soil were Celtic hermits, seeking refuge on these remote shores to worship Christ.

Later, Norse settlers drove them out. Some of the settlers were Christians, although the majority were heathen, worshipping the old Norse gods. When Iceland was constituted as a republic in year 930, it was based on the heathen religion. In the late 900s missionaries from the continent sought to spread Christianity among the population.

Adoption of Christianity

Soon the nation was deeply divided between the adherents of the different religions that would not tolerate each other. At the legislative assembly, the Alþingi at Þingvellir, in the year 1000, the country was on the brink of civil war. The leaders of the two groups realized the danger and found a solution. They chose a person that everybody respected for his wisdom, the heathen priest and chieftain, Þorgeir of Ljósavatn, to decide which way the people should go. Þorgeir retired to his dwelling and lay there all day meditating. The next day he called the assembly together and made his decision known. "If we put asunder the law, we will put asunder the peace," he said. "Let it be the foundation of our law that everyone in this land shall be Christian and believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The people agreed and many were subsequently baptized. This remarkable story marks the beginning of the church in Iceland. Ever since it has been an important part of the Icelandic culture and identity.

Through the centuries

At the inauguration of Christianity in Iceland, the church was undivided. Missonary bishops and priests from Germany, England and Eastern Europe worked among the population until the church was organized under the Roman Catholic church order. The first Icelandic bishop, Ísleifur, was consecrated in Bremen in 1056, and he made Skálholt the episcopal see. Thereafter, Skálholt was the center of Christian learning and spirituality in the country through the 18th century.

In spite of all the upheavals of history there is a marked continuity within the church of Iceland. For the first five centuries the Icelandic church was Roman Catholic. In the beginning, it was part of the province of 1056 in Bremen. Later, the Icelandic church came under the archbishops of Lund and in 1153 it became a part of the province of Nidaros. Iceland was divided into two dioceses, Skálholt, established 1056, and Holar in 1106. These continued until 1801, when Iceland became one diocese under one bishop of Iceland, residing in Reykjavík.

The country was an independent republic from 930 until 1262. Then Iceland, having suffered civil war and anarchy, came under the rule of the Norwegian king and in 1380 with Norway under the Danish crown. In 1944 Iceland regained its independence as a republic.

Holy men and venerable books

Three Icelandic churchmen were revered as saints, even though none of them actually canonized. The most famous of them is Þorlákur, St. Thorlac of Skálholt (1133-1193). He was educated in Lincoln, England, and in Paris. Returning to Iceland Þorlákur became an abbot of the monastery of Þykkvibær, soon gaining a reputation for his sanctity. As a bishop of Skálholt, he sought to enforce the decrees of Rome regarding the ownership of church property and morality of the clergy. The Icelandic calendar has two days dedicated to Þorlákur, July 20th and December 23rd. The other two saintly bishops are Jón Ögmundsson (1106-1121) and Guðmundur Arason (1203-1237).

There was great literary activity during the 12th and 13th centuries producing extensive religious literature in the Icelandic language as well as the well known sagas. Clergy doubtless wrote most of them. Parts of the Bible were already translated into Icelandic in the 13th century. This powerful and enduring literary tradition with its strong national character has shaped the Icelandic language and inspired literary activity. Icelandic has had a continuity that makes it the oldest living language in Europe. Every child in Iceland can read texts dating from the 13th century. The Icelandic hymnal contains hymns from the 12th century and the 14th centuries in their original linguistic forms.


In 1540 the Lutheran Reformation was established in Iceland, enforced by the Danish crown. Monasteries were dissolved and much of the property of the episcopal sees confiscated by the King of Denmark who became the supreme head of the church. A dark spot in the history of the reformation is the lawless execution in 1550 of the last Roman Catholic bishop of Hólar, Jón Arason and his two sons. Most of the Roman priests continued in their parishes even under the Lutheran church ordinance. The reformation unleashed a renewed literary activity in the country. The publication of the Icelandic translation of the New testament in 1540 and the entire Bible in 1584 marks important milestones in the history of our language and is a major factor in its preservation. The "Hymns of the Passion," 50 meditations on the cross by the 17th century poet and minister Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674), were for generations the most important school of prayer and wisdom. The same can be said of "The Postil", the sermons of Jón Vídalin, bishop of Skálholt (1698-1720). His eloquent and dynamic sermons were read in every home for generations.

The Icelandic Bible Society was founded in 1815. Its foundation was the fruit of the visit of the Scottish clergyman, Ebenezer Henderson, who travelled around the country distributing Bibles and New testaments.

The nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of a national revival in Iceland and a movement towards a political independence. Many churchmen played an important part in that movement.

The Modern Era

The constitution of 1874 guarantees religious freedom. But the constitution also specifies that the "Evangelical Lutheran Church is a national church and as such it is protected and supported by the State." This provision is still in the constitution of the Republic of Iceland of 1944. Around the turn of the last century the church legislation was reformed, parish councils were established and the congregations gained the right to elect their pastors. A new translation of the Bible was printed in 1912, and revised in 1981. A new translation will be published in 2007. In the early 1900s liberal theology was introduced in Iceland, causing great theological strife between liberal and conservative adherents. Textual criticism of the Scriptures and radical theological liberalism was quite influential in the Department of Theology within the newly founded University of Iceland. Spiritism and theosophical writings were also influential in intellectual circles. Opposed to this were the inner mission, the YMCA/YWCA, and missionary societies with a pietistic leadership. This conflict marred church life in the country well into the 1960s.

At the turn of the century two Lutheran free churches were founded, based on the same confessions as the national church and using the same liturgy and hymnal, but structurally and financially independent. Earlier Roman Catholic priests and nuns established missions and founded hospitals. In the early decades of the 20th century Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal missions were quite successful.

Until this century the population of the country was predominately rural, farmers and fishermen, whose lifestyle was traditional. The church was a part of this way of life, prayers and devotions in every home and religious customs surrounding everyday life and work of the people taken for granted. Modern social upheavals have brought with them problems for the church in Iceland. Iceland is a modern and highly urbanized society, highly secularized with increasing pluralism of belief.

Even though Iceland is becoming increasingly multicultural with a variety of faiths, 82% of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland and over 90% of the popular belong to Christian churches. Nine out of 10 children are baptized in their first year, more than 90% of adolescents are confirmed, 85% are married in the church and 99% of funerals take place in the church. Regular Sunday morning worshipers are a much lower percentage of the population, even though church festivals and special events frequently draw large crowds. A recent Gallup poll shows that 10% of adults in Iceland attend church service at least once a month. Most children are taught evening prayers in their homes. The primary schools teach Bible stories and children services are an important part of the worship life of every parish. The National radio transmits church services every Sunday morning, and daily devotions morning and evening.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

St. Longinus the Centurion

The Hermits, by Charles Kingsley FULL TEXT

Here´s the link  :)


ICELAND / History: Monasteries, Convents, and Churches

Vague ancient sources mention hermits in Iceland before Christianity was adopted and cloisters were established.  One of the stories tells us about Asolfur Konalsson from Ireland.  He did not want company with pagan people.  Jorundur the Christian is also mentioned.  Mani the Christian is supposed to have built a church at Kolgumyrar in the Hunavatn-county and served there 24 hours a day.  Some female hermits are mentioned:  Gudrun Osvifursdottir (she was young when Christianity was adopted; Laxdaela Saga), Hildur, who became a hermit at the Holar Cathedral during the time of bishop Jon Ogmundsson, Groa Gissurardottir (Gissur was the son of Isleifur Gissurarson, the country's first bishop), who reclused herself when she grew old at Skalholt, Ketilbjörg lived in recluse at Skalholt during bishop's Pall Jonsson (†1202), and Katrin reclused herself at Munkathvera before the convent at Reynisstadur, where she became the first abbess, was established.

Old sources imply that Hroflur (Rudolf) established a monestary at Baer in Borgarfjordur close to the year 1030.  He was called back to England in 1049.  There were more attempts at establishing cloisters during the early years of the church.  Bishop Magnus Einarsson at Skalholt bought a part of the Westman Islands and attempted the establishment of a monestary there.  He was lost in a fire in 1148 and nothing came off his ideas.  Jon Loftsson at Oddi built a monestary at Keldur around the year 1190, where he wanted to spend his last years.  It was probably abandoned after his death in 1197.

In the 12th century the church was well established and seven cloisters were founded.  They were the offsprings of the great increase in number of cloisters in Europe at the time, and the fact, that many of the country's church leaders had been educated there.

Little was documented about everyday life in the monestaries and convents.  Therefore we have to rely on the archaeologists of the future to cast some light on that.  We tend to connect the cloisters with culture and education, and last but not least, the preservation of the old Saga manuscripts.  Cloister cartularies mention large libraries in some instances.  The Thingeyrar monestary seems to have been the most important one, when it comes to literary production and the rewriting of the Saga literature.  Stories of kings and bishops were written before and after the turn of the 12th century.

Historians are certain that the Saga of King Olafur Tryggvason was written in Latin in 1190.  The monk Gunnlaugur Leifsson also wrote it a few years later and also bishop Jon Ogmundarsson's biography.  The 14th century canons were traced to the Benedictine school in North Iceland, where the Thingeyrar and Munkathvera monestaries educated their students.  Abbot Bergur Sokkason at Munkathvera most probably wrote the canons of Michel and Nicolaus, and the so-called Laurentius Saga hints, that he was responsible for most of the 14th century canons.  He became prior of the Munkathvera monestary in 1322 and abbot in 1325.  Among other esteemed writers of the period were Arni Laurentiusson, and Arngrimur Brandsson, both monks at Thingeyrar.  The prior of the Videy monestary, Styrmir the learned, was an esteemed writer as well.

The monestary at Helgafell in the West was an important centre for writing and education.  The famous Skard's book, preserved in two vellum manuscripts, most probably was written there.  It comprises the stories of the apostles.  

Preserved cloister cartularies are the best sources of their economy.  Many business contracts have been preserved.  Monestaries and convents also were important establishments for the elderly, who could afford to spend their last years in the care of the monks or the nuns.  Widows were the most common customers, but also the odd married couple.  Each instance required the permission of the bishop.

The reformation started in continental Europe in 1517, when Luther nailed his protests on the castle church door in Wittenberg.  King Christian III started his rule in Denmark in 1536.  One of his first decrees was the reformation of the church in his kingdom with himself as its highest authority.  That way he managed to acquire the wealth and property of the catholic church.

Gissur Einarsson, Iceland's first lutheran bishop, registered all the ordained people of the monestaries and convents of the Skalholt see.  They did not turn out to be very many.  King Christian's church ruling arrived in Iceland in 1537.  Bishop Gissur translated it to Icelandic in 1541 and was accepted by a convocation the same year.  It offered monks and nuns to stay at the monestaries and convents for the rest of their lives, or financial support to seek other vocations.

The Thingeyrar monestary was founded by Jon Ogmundsson bishop of the northern see in 1112, but there are no records of monestary life there until 1133, when Vilmundur Thorolfsson was ordained its firs abbot.  It was a Benedictine monestary up to the reformation. See Travel Guide Thingeyrar

The Munkathvera monestary was established by Bjorn Gislason, bishop at Holar in 1155.  It was also dedicated to the holy Benedict and its first abbot was Hoskuldur, who is not recorded in any available sources. See Travel Guide Munkatvera

The Hitardalur monestary was established in 1166, probably to commemorate the big fire in Hitardalur in 1148, when bishop Magnus Einarsson of Skalholt and a large number of other people were killed.  Farmer Thorleifur Thorlaksson at Hitardalur donated his property for the establishment of a monestary, but no records have been found about monestary lifel there.  Only two abbots are vaguely mentioned, Hreinn Styrmisson (ordained in 1166; †1177), and Haflidi (†1201 according to annals).  It was probably a Benedictine monestary. See Travel Guide Hitardalur

The Thykkvabaejar monestary was founded by Klaengur Thorsteinsson, bishop at Skalholt in 1168, and dedicated to the holy Augustus.  Most of the monks of this order were ordained priests.  They practised discipline and celibacy.  Its first abbot was Thorlakur Thorhallsson, later bishop of Skalholt (the southern see) and canonized by pope Johannes Paul II on January 14th 1984 as the protecting saint of Iceland.  He was educated by Eyjolfur Saemundarson (Saemundur the learned).  Thorlakur was ordained as a priest very young.  He also studied in Paris France and Lincoln England.  He probably got acquainted with the Augustine order in France.  He first became prior and then abbot.  The monestary was famous for its religious rites and the celibacy of the brothers.  Bishop Pall Jonsson of Skalholt allowed the people of Iceland to pledge in the name of Thorlakur in 1198, and the next year the parliament confirmed his sacredness.  Thorlakur was elected bishop of Skalholt in 1174. See Travel Guide Thykkvabaejarklaustur

The Flatey monestary.  Bishop Klaengur Thorsteinsson consecrated an Augustine monestary on the island Flatey on Bay Breidafjodur in 1172.  For unknown reasons it was moved to Helgafell in 1184 or 1185.  It probably served its purpose better on the mainland.  Its firs abbot was Ogmundur Kalfsson and the monestary served until the reformation. See Travel Guide Flatey
Only two convents, both of the Benedictine order, were established during the middle ages in Iceland.

The convent at Kirkjubaer was established in 1186.  Three years later a woman named Halldora was ordained its firs abbess.  Its initiator most probably was Thorlakur Thorhallson, bishop of the southern see.  This convent served until the reformation. See Travel Guide Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

The convent of Reynistadur 
was initiated by Jonrundur, bishop of the northern see, and Hallbera, who later became it s abbess (1295).  Bishop Jorundur had donated a few estates for this purpose, and the convent was built at Stadur in Reynisnes.  He convinced Hallbera and other wealthy women to donate handsomely to the convent.  Jorundur and his successors remained the protectors of the convent, which served until the reformation.

The Modruvellir Augustine monestary was established by bishop Jorundur in 1296.  Its first prior was Teitur, who is not documented any further.See travel Guide Morduvellir

The Augustine monestary on Island Videy probably was established at the initiative of Thorvaldur Gissurarson and Snorri Sturluson in 1225.  Bishop Magnus at Skalholt was Thorvaldur's brother.  It was consecrated by him and he donated his income from the area between river Botnsa and the Hafnarfjordur bay to the monestary.  Thorvaldur managed the monestary until he died in 1235.  During the period 1344-1352 it was occupied by the Benedictine order.  It served until the reformation. 
See Travel Guide Videy

The Augustine monestary at Skrida was established in 1494 at the initiative of bishop Stefan of Skalholt.  In the beginning it was managed by a prior, and its firs abbot's name was Narfi.  He was ordained in 1497.  Vague sources mention, that the monestary never housed many brothers and only one monk lived there in 1198.  According to archaeological excavations in 2006 contradicts these sources.  The monestary served until the reformation.  See Travel Guide Skriduklaustur

In 2007, two catholic convents are serving in Iceland, one in town Hafnarfjordur and the other in the fishing village Stykkisholmur.

The Last Catholic Bishop in Iceland

The Last Catholic Bishop in Iceland

On this day, 07 Nov 1550, the last Catholic Bishop in Iceland and an important figure in Icelandic history was beheaded because of his opposition to Lutheranism and the control from Denmark's King Christian III.

Jón was born in 1484 at a farm south of Akureyri called Gryta. He was educated at nearby Munkaþverá (monastery). At this location was the Benedictine Abbey of Iceland. There you can see this statue.

Jón was ordained a Catholic priest in about 1504 and was sent on two missions to Norway. In 1522, he became the episcopal see of Hólar. Bishop Jón struggled against Denmark and the Reformation until he and his two sons were killed on this day 462 years ago. He is an ancestor to many Icelanders alive today and my 11th Great Grandfather.

Our ancestor, Jón, was known for many exceptional talents including the composition of poetry. He had at least six children with Helga Sigurðardóttir. The Catholic Church was dissatisfied with Jón's faith because he ignored the rule to be celibate. However, many Icelandic priests and bishops through the years ignored this church law and because Iceland was so far away from Rome, not much was done to prevent this practice.

Lutheran Reformation began slowly in Iceland. Icelanders studying in Denmark and Germany brought these new ideas home with them. Martin Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses on 31 Oct 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. During the 1520s, there was a German merchant community at Hafnarfjörður where the first Lutheran Church was built but the Alþingi passed a resolution pledging allegiance to the King of Norway and vowing to keep their Holy Faith (Catholic). The country's two bishops, Ögmundur Pálsson of Skálholt and Jón Arason of Hólar signed that decree.

King Christian III of Denmark began imposing Lutheranism on all the held lands and ordered Icelanders to change their religion, too. In 1538, both bishops Ögmundur and Jón rebelled against the decree.

By 1541, they had agreed to pay taxes to Denmark as long as they were allowed to keep the Icelandic laws and customs. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, Bishop Ögmundur, who was old and blind, was taken prisoner to Denmark, where he died in 1542.

Bishop Jón's unrelenting opposition is thought to have come from Icelandic nationalism, Catholic faith, and also his personal desire to retain control. He resented changing religions and believed that Iceland should remain Catholic. Pope Paul III sent a letter of support that urged Jón to continue to be a champion for the Catholic religion in Iceland.

In February 1549 the Danish King sent a letter to the Icelandic people saying that Bishop Jón was to be considered an outlaw and he was not obeying the King's orders so they should not help him or obey him. Skálholt was reformed in 1549 but many lives were lost in the civil war that ensued.

In the summer of 1549, Jón, his two sons, Björn and Ari, and a large group of men captured Marteinn Einarsson beneath Snæfellsjökull. He was the Lutheran Bishop appointed by the King of Denmark. Legend tells us that Ari did not want to take forceful action but his mother presented a woman's skirt to Ari, which was a traditional custom of shaming a man.

The next summer in 1550, Jón with 200 men and his two sons each with 100 men rode to the Alþingi to fight against Lutheranism. In October 1550, Jón made another action against his last big enemy in Iceland, Daði Guðmundsson, but he took less than 100 men including his two sons. Historians say he had few men because he was confident of success. Daði's estate was at Sauðafell and Ari had already claimed this land. During the Battle of Sauðafell, Jón and his group were captured in the church.

Jón, Björn, and Ari were taken to Snóksdalur. On 23 Oct 1550, Christian Skriver, the Danish representative, took over their safe keeping until the next summer Alþingi. Daði, Bishop Marteinn and Christian Skriver took the prisoners to Skálholt and wondered what they should do with them until the summer. They were afraid that the northern fishermen, followers of Jón, would cause a problem. A clergyman named Jón Bjarnason was reported to say, 'The axe and the earth will keep them best.' Without a trial, they were sentenced to death on 06 Nov 1550. The next day, Björn and Ari were executed. Jón was offered his life if he would renounce Catholicism but he only said he wished to accompany his sons. After seven chops with the axe, he finally died.

Legends claim that just as the first axe blow was coming, a priest called Sveinn said to Jón, "Líf er eftir þetta, herra!" ("There is a life after this one, Sire!") Jón turned to Sveinn and said, "Veit ég það, Sveinki!" ("That I know, little Sveinn!") Ever since veit ég það, Sveinki has been a traditional saying and means the person has said something completely obvious.

The following photo is the place of execution near Skálholt.

At the age of their deaths, Jón was 66-years-old. His sons, Björn of 44 years and Ari of 40 years are both my 10th Great Grandfathers. Björn is on our Jónasson side and Ari is on the Ólafsson ancestral tree.

Another son, Sigurður, went to Skálholt to bring his father and brothers home for burial. They put bells on the coffins. People came up to the coffins with reverence of these men they believed to be saints. Tradition says that as their bodies were carried to Hólar, the bell called "Líkaböng" automatically started ringing on its own and it rang so loud that it split. They were buried at Hólar.

Jón had a daughter named Þórunn. It is believed that she inspired 30 – 60 men to seek revenge. Doing the King's business, Christian Skriver and his group were traveling on the Reykjanes peninsulas. Spending the night at Kirkjubol, this group of northerners (with permission from the farmer) penetrated the roof and killed Christian and his men. They also killed all the Danes in the area that they could find. I heard a story once that Christian was killed by forcing molten metal down his throat but I cannot find any reliable sources to corroborate this story.

Their bodies were buried north of the Kirkjubol home fields. Legend states these dead Danes started haunting the area so their bodies were exhumed. Their heads were chopped off and put at their buttocks, to prevent their souls from any further hauntings. When the King found out about this, he was outraged. He sent Danish soldiers to the farm and the farmer was beheaded at the farm called Straumur. There is a nice 5 km walking trail from Gardskagi to Kirkjubol to Sandgerdi, all along the shore of the Reykjanesskagi. There you can see diverse bird life and seals.

Iceland submitted to Danish King Christian III at the Alþing 01 Jul 1551 and the Lutheran Reformation was official. But our ancestor, Jón Arason, was considered a national hero as a protector of Iceland as a nation. Jón Arason had many descendants that were also priests and bishops including five Lutheran bishops of Skálholt and three of Holar. Artifacts from this era are preserved in Reykjavík at the National Museum.

In 1950, a tower with a chapel and chamber was built which houses the remains of Bishop Jón.

The church was built from 1756-1763. The church stones are from Hólabyrda, the mountain above Hólar. An infant grave is inside the wall which is the baby of the German mason who built the church. The altarpiece was made in Germany about 1500 and brought to Hólar by Bishop Jón. It is beautiful with Bible based wood-carved figures with gold gilded panels.

The mosaic picture of Jón Arason and his burial location is the photo below.

For more information on the Reformation in Iceland:

More about Hólar:

Special Thanks to Hálfdan Helgason for his genealogy assistance and partnership through the years.