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The ancient seat of the Icelandic bishops, Skalholt, was the centre of ecclesiastic and worldly power, culture, and education for centuries.
The first of 32 catholic bishops took his seat there in 1056 and in the wake of the reformation in 1540 13 Lutheran bishops sat there until 1801, when the seat was moved to the capital. The country became one see again in 1798. The northern see was established in 1106.
Other historic traces are the ruins of a fortress for the defence of the place, constructed in 1548, a monument stands on the spot, where the last catholic bishop and his two sons were beheaded in 1550, a cairn originally built by the students of the school in the past has been reconstructed and a part of the sub terrain walk between the churches, the school and the dwellings of the bishops has been reconstructed as well.
Most of the few artefacts preserved from the older churches of Skalholt are kept in the National Museum in Reykjavik. Late in the 18th century some books were printed at Skalholt, among them the first one in the Icelandic language.
Many topographical names in the area are tightly connected with historical events. The former churches, 10 of them altogether, were built of unendurable material, wood. At least two of them were much larger than the present one (consecrated in 1963), two were consumed by fire, and other two were destroyed by bad weather. During the excavation for the foundations of the present church, a stone coffin of bishop Pall Jonsson (†1211) was discovered and is now on display in the church’s cellar. There has been a school in Skalholt from the beginning and nowadays its buildings are used as a hotel in summer. Two Icelandic female artists, both deceased, decorated the church (stained windows and the altarpiece).
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