Hallgrímskirkja is an iconic Evangelical-Lutheran church of Iceland that stands 74.5 meters (244 feet) on a hill overlooking the city of Reykjavík. There are about 7,000 parishioners who are served by two pastors, an organist (choir director and cantor), children’s choir director, community workers, a youth worker, a manager and churchwardens, in addition to many volunteers who participate in various aspects of parish work. Thousands of people visit here each day to enjoy worship services, attend concerts, and view the city from the high tower. There is a lift to the clock interior followed by several sets of stairs to an open-air viewing platform. Summer hours (May through September) are from 09:00 to 21:00, and winter hours (October through April) are from 09:00 to 17:00. (Final entry is a half-hour prior to closing). Admission to the sanctuary is free, and you can purchase tickets to the tower for ISK 900 (children 7 through 14 are ISK 100). The tower is closed Sundays from 10:30 to 12:15 for service at 11:00, and the church may close without notice due to weddings or funerals. In addition to Sunday service, there is a small service Wednesday at 8:00 and an English service the last Sunday of the month at 14:00.
Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland and one of the most visited destinations in the country. It was designed by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson's in 1937, and construction began in 1940 spanning almost 40 years. The stepped concrete facade reflects the volcanic basalt columns and high fjords present throughout the Iceland landscape, and it has become a national architectural style. The original design called for a tower that wasn’t as high; however, the leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a large spire to outshine the Catholic Landakotskirja Church, which is also located in Reykjavík.
It is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674) who was one of Iceland’s most famous poets as well as one of the most influential pastors during the Age of Orthodoxy. Pétursson is most noted for his Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar), a collection of 50 hymns denoting the Passion of Christ to be sung during the seven weeks of Lent. The hymns have been published more often than any other book in Iceland, and they continue exhibit a great influence on Icelanders’ religious practice.
The statue of the Viking explorer Leifur Eiríksson set in front of the church was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival (prior to Hallgrímskirkja). It was designed by Alexander Stirling Calder and commemorates the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD. Leifur lived from c. 970 to c. 1020 and was the founder of Thjodhild (Þjóðhildur), the first settlement in Greenland, as well as the first known European explorer to have discovered continental North America.
The interior of Hallgrímskirkja is 1,676 square meters (18,040 square feet) and has a crypt beneath the choir. Art exhibits inside are in collaboration with the Society of Friends of the Arts and emphasize ecclesiastical themes. The Women’s Organization also provides vestments and various ecclesiastical articles. The concert pipe organ, built by Johannes’ Klais Orgelbau in Bonn, Germany, stands high in the balcony and is the largest musical instrument in Iceland: It is 15 meters (49 feet) tall with 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5,275 pipes. The action is electronic and the installation was completed in 1992. Two of Iceland’s best choirs, the Hallgrímskirkja Motet Choir (founded 1982) and Scola cantorum, are based at the church as well as children’s and youth choirs. Their repertoire ranges from renaissance to contemporary music, and they regularly appear at the Festival of Sacred Arts. From mid-June to mid-August they offer half–hour concerts Wednesdays at noon. There are also organ recitals at noon on Saturdays and Sundays at 5 p.m. and some Thursdays.