Iceland has a population a bit less than 400,000 as of 2023. In size, it is a little more than twice the size of Denmark, or about the same size as the U.S. state of Kentucky. The landscape contains volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. There are also massive glaciers that are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks.
The official language is Icelandic although English is very common as a second language. Most of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik and much of that city runs on geothermal power.
History of the Catholic Church in Iceland:
It is believed that the first men who settled in Iceland were Gaelic monks from a Hiberno-Scottish mission. Their presence soon disappeared and by the end of the 9th century, Nordic and Celtic people settled in Iceland. The majority was heathen and venerated the ancient Norse gods.
In the 10th century Catholic missionaries came to Iceland from Norway and Germany. They christened an increasing number of the population. Subsequently, in 1000AD, the National Assembly “Althingi” decided to proclaim Christianity, as the general religion in the whole country.
In 1056 the first Icelandic bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson was ordained. In 1106 a diocese was founded in Hólar in the north of Iceland. In the first two centuries of Christianity in Iceland around two thousand churches were built in the country. A number of monasteries and convents, of both the Benedictine and Augustinian Orders, were founded in Iceland. They were, along with schools in Skálholt and in Hólar, the main-centres of education and culture. Thanks to the influence of monks and priests a rich culture developed and ancient sagas, religious writings and laws were recorded. Furthermore, religious men and women as well as other people working in the church, initiated progress in agriculture and in the care of the sick and the poor.
Saint Thorlak, Patron Saint of Iceland
The most important medieval bishop was Þorlákur Þórhallsson. He had studied in France and England before becoming Bishop of Skálholt 1178-1193. He attempted to reform the morality of pastors and laymen and claimed jurisdiction over church property from the hands of laymen. He was already regarded as a holy man during his lifetime. He was locally canonized five years after his death. In 1984 Pope John Paul II declared St. Thorlak “The patron saint of Iceland.”
In the wake of the Reformation, the king of Denmark succeeded in gaining control of the assets of the church. He also led the Protestant clergy to power and church organizations were placed under their control.
Bishop Jón Arason Jón Arason, the bishop of Hólar, refused to reject the pope´s authority in spiritual matters and declared the new church ordinance unlawful. He was arrested and executed, without legal trial and conviction, in Skálholt on November 7, on 1550. Subsequently, all ties with Rome were cut and Catholicism was outlawed.
After 300 years, the Catholic Church was restored as Catholic missionaries came to Iceland in 1857. Two French priests, Fr. Bernard and Fr. Baudoin, were admitted to minister to the French seamen who were fishing around the island. Three years later they settled in Landakot in Reykjavík, where the Cathedral stands. Fr. Baudoin remained there for 15 years. At that time Iceland was a part of the so called “Arctic Mission” (Præfectura Apostolica Poli Arctici) which was established in 1855 and reached the northern parts of Europe and America. In 1869 the Arctic Mission was dissolved and Iceland was placed under the newly formed prefecture in Denmark. In 1895, two priests were sent from the Catholic Mission in Copenhagen and a year later four members of the Sisters of Joseph arrived.
Soon after their arrival, the Sisters of Saint Joseph began to teach a small number of Catholic children in their premises in Landakot. This was the beginning of Landakotsskóli, the elementary school. They also helped improve health care in Iceland by building a hospital in Landakot in 1902.
The Montfortians Montfort priests first arrived in 1903 and until 1968 they supervised the mission. In 1923, Iceland was made a special mission district. In 1929, the missionary assembly in Iceland was brought to the upper level of the administration and made a vicarati.
The entire country country is composed of one diocese. Masses in Iceland are usually in Icelandic language. But since a significant number of Catholics do not understand the language, there are regular Masses in Polish and English. There are also Masses in Lithuanian in St. Joseph´s Church in Hafnarfjörður.
Visit of Pope John Paul II to Iceland June 3-4, 1989:
Pope Saint John Paul II visited Iceland in 1989, kissing the ground at Keflavík Airport upon his arrival (as he always did when visiting a foreign country) on Saturday June 3, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. During his visit he met with the Catholic community at Christ the King Cathedral in Reykjavik and then with an ecumenical group at the National Shrine of Thingvellir. On June 4, Seaman’s Sunday, St John Paul II celebrated Mass and recited the Angelus in front of the Cathedral before his departure later that afternoon.
Catholic churches in Iceland:
Reykjavík, West Iceland: Cathedral of Christ the King. The Parish Church is the Cathedral of Christ the King in Landakot. The parish was established as a missionary office in 1860 and led the mission across the country. The Bishop residence is in Reykjavík. The cathedral is Christ the King Cathedral in Landakot. The cathedral is also a Basilica.
Address: Túngata 13, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Tel: +354 552 5388
Stykkishólmur, West Iceland: St. Francis of Assisi Parish. The Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a parish church, founded in 2018. It is located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Address: Austurgata 7, 340 Stykkishólmur, Iceland
South Iceland: St. Mary Parish. in Breiðholt in Reykjavík. The parish was founded in 1985. Masses are held regularly in Selfoss and in other municipalities, where churches of the Lutheran Church or other community centers are borrowed.
Address: Raufarsel 4, 109 Reykjavík, Iceland
Tel: +354 557 7420
Hafnarfjörður, West Iceland: St. Joseph Parish. The parish was founded in 1926. The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, IVE assist the priests in congregational activities, especially in children’s education. They live in their own premises and have a chapel in their home. In addition a Carmelite convent is located in St. Joseph´s Parish. Since 1984 sisters from Poland live there. They devote themselves to prayer and meditation on the Word of God.
Address: Jófríðarstaðarvegur, 220 Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
Tel: +354 554 7010
Akureyri, North Iceland: Saint Peter Parish. The parish church is St. Peters´ Church in The parish was founded in 1953 and was a quasi-parish until 2000 when it became a full parish. In addition to daily services in Akureyri, in the parish church and in the Carmelite convent, there are congregational activities in other parts of North of Iceland. In Akureyri are Carmelite Sisters, who assist in congregational work and run a day care centre for young children. They have a chapel in their home as well as in Dalvík, where the order bought a house recently.
Address: Hrafnagilsstræti 2, 600 Akureyri, Iceland
Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland: St. Thorlac Parish. The parish church is St. Thorlak´s Church in . The parish was founded in 2007. In Reyðarfjörður is a Capuchin Monastery and three brothers from Slovakia are living there. In Egilsstaðir is the “Corpus Christi chapel.” It was blessed in 2009. A Catholic chapel is also in Höfn in Hornafjörður. It was consecrated in 2013 and dedicated to the Holy family and St. Jean-Marie Vianney. Masses are regularly held in other parts of East Iceland.
Ásbrú (in Reykjanesbær) Southwest Iceland: St. John Paul II Parish. The newest Parish in Iceland, it was founded in 2014.
Most parishes in Iceland do not have their own websites, so for Mass times and more details, go to the Diocesan website here (there is an English language option).