Vasilyevich had brought a sack along, and all the way back

Nature Difficult to Move Networkreading2023-11-30 17:54:27 97385 94391

I found the indolence of the Icelandic peasants quite unpardonable. All the valleys through which we passed were large morasses richly overgrown with grass. If the single parishes would unite to dig trenches and drain the soil, they would have the finest meadows. This is proved near the many precipices where the water has an outlet; in these spots the grass grows most luxuriantly, and daisies and herbs flourish there, and even wild clover. A few cottages are generally congregated on these oases.

Vasilyevich had brought a sack along, and all the way back

Before arriving at the village of Thorfastadir, we already perceived Hecla surrounded by the beautiful jokuls.

Vasilyevich had brought a sack along, and all the way back

I arrived at Thorfastadir while a funeral was going on. As I entered the church the mourners were busily seeking courage and consolation in the brandy-bottle. The law commands, indeed, that this be not done in the church; but if every one obeyed the law, what need would there be of judges? The Icelanders must think so, else they would discontinue the unseemly practice.

Vasilyevich had brought a sack along, and all the way back

When the priest came, a psalm or a prayer--I could not tell which it was, being Icelandic--was so earnestly shouted by peasants under the leadership of the priest and elders, that the good people waxed quite warm and out of breath. Then the priest placed himself before the coffin, which, for want of room, had been laid on the backs of the seats, and with a very loud voice read a prayer which lasted more than half an hour. With this the ceremony within the church was concluded, and the coffin was carried round the church to the grave, followed by the priest and the rest of the company. This grave was deeper than any I had ever seen. When the coffin had been lowered, the priest threw three handfuls of earth upon it, but none of the mourners followed his example. Among the earth which had been dug out of the grave I noticed four skulls, several human bones, and a board of a former coffin. These were all thrown in again upon the coffin, and the grave filled in presence of the priest and the people. One man trod the soil firm, then a little mound was made and covered with grass-plots which were lying ready. The whole business was completed with miraculous speed.

The little town of Skalholt, my station this night, was once as celebrated in religious matters as Thingvalla had been politically famous. Here, soon after the introduction of Christianity, the first bishopric was founded in 1098, and the church is said to have been one of the largest and richest. Now Skalholt is a miserable place, and consists of three or four cottages, and a wretched wooden church, which may perhaps contain a hundred persons; it has not even its own priest, but belongs to Thorfastadir.

My first business on arriving was to inspect the yet remaining relics of past ages. First I was shewn an oil-picture which hangs in the church, and is said to represent the first bishop of Skalholt, Thorlakur, who was worshipped almost as a saint for his strict and pious life.

After this, preparations were made to clear away the steps of the altar and several boards of the flooring. I stood expectantly looking on, thinking that I should now have to descend into a vault to inspect the embalmed body of the bishop. I must confess this prospect was not the most agreeable, when I thought of the approaching night which I should have to spend in this church, perhaps immediately over the grave of the old skeleton. I had besides already had too much to do with the dead for one day, and could not rid myself of the unpleasant grave-odour which I had imbibed in Thorfastadir, and which seemed to cling to my dress and my nose. { 41} I was therefore not a little pleased when, instead of the dreaded vault and mummy, I was only shewn a marble slab, on which were inscribed the usual notifications of the birth, death, &c. of this great bishop. Besides this, I saw an old embroidered stole and a simple golden chalice, both of which are said to be relics of the age of Thorlakar.

Then we ascended into the so-called store-room, which is only separated from the lower portion of the church by a few boards, and which extends to the altar. Here are kept the bells and the organ, if the church possesses one, the provisions, and a variety of tools. They opened an immense chest for me there, which seemed to contain only large pieces of tallow made in the form of cheeses; but under this tallow I found the library, where I discovered an interesting treasure. This was, besides several very old books in the Icelandic tongue, three thick folio volumes, which I could read very easily; they were German, and contained Luther's doctrines, letters, epistles, &c.



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