The Last Turf Church of Hof, Iceland

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Hof, in Öræfi, is a small village in southeast Iceland, approximately 30 kilometers east of Vatnajökull, and 20 kilometers south of the Skaftafell National Park. Like many Icelandic villages, houses here are roofed with turf, a practice that developed in Northern Europe as early as the Iron age. In order to protect themselves and their livestock from the harsh climate, the settlers constructed shelters using the trees to provide a framework and covering the frame with turf. Near the end of the 18th century, a new style developed with the ends of the buildings made of wood and the turf covering the sides and roofs. Some of these buildings have survived to present times. The Hofskirkja Church is one such building.

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Hofskirkja Church, dedicated to saint Clement, was built in 1884, and was the last turf church built in the old architectural style. Its walls are thick and assembled of rocks to give stability as well as insulation, an important element to consider in the Icelandic climate. The roof is made of stone slabs and covered in turf. It is one of six churches in Iceland still standing, which are preserved as historical monuments. Records say that the church was built by the carpenter Páll Pálsson, while the lock and hinges of the church door were made by Þorsteinn Gissurarson, who was a well-known blacksmith from Hof.

The church is maintained by the National Museum but also serves as a parish church.

Building turf houses was widespread in Iceland where turf was used on houses of both the poor and the wealthy, and on all types of houses - homes, stables, and churches. In the 20th century this changed dramatically, as fewer and fewer turf-houses were being built. Now at the start of the 21st century, only a few craftsmen practice the trade, and the knowledge is being passed on mainly through the heritage sector.

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Sources: Hof-1 / My Trip Journal / National Museum of Iceland / UNESCO [via Urban Ghost Media]

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