Today, visitors come to Skálholt to see the new cathedral, the tomb of bishops, the museum and 13th-century tunnel leading out to the excavations of the old bishopric and school. It is one of country´s most important historic sites.
Skálholtsskóli – the centre for education, culture and dialogue of church and society – welcomes individuals and families as well as larger groups of all kinds for a long or short stay all year round, and offers accommodation and restaurant service.
Christianity was made the official religion of Iceland by law in the year 1000. The country’s first bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson, ordained in 1056, made Skálholt the episcopal see of all Iceland (until another Episcopal see was created in Hólar in 1106). It became a centre of culture and education for more than 700 years. Of the bishops residing there in the middle ages, Þorlákur Þórhallsson (bishop 1178-1198), Iceland’s only saint, is worth mentioning. People came on pilgrimage from all corners of Iceland to visit his relics in Skálholt. During those times huge wooden cathedrals were built there.
During the mid-16th century, Icelanders under Danish rule converted to Lutheranism. During those turbulent times the last Catholic bishop (of Hólar) was executed in Skálholt. A more happy event was the translation of the Bible into Icelandic, which was started in secrecy in the cow stall of Skálholt. One of the best known and most influential bishops of Skálholt after the reformation was Brynjólfur Sveinsson (bishop 1639-1674), highly respected for his learning and for collecting old Icelandic manuscripts. He had a wooden church built at Skálholt, approximately the same size as the present cathedral. It is evident that all ten churches built in Skálholt stood on the same basic foundations.
For centuries Skálholt was the actual capital of a rural society and the cultural and spiritual centre of the country (together with Hólar in the North), figuring eminently in the cultural and church history. But after waning status of the bishop’s office, volcanic eruptions, a major earthquake and other disasters in the late-18th century, the episcopal see and school were transferred to Reykjavík. Skálholt fell into disrepute.
In the mid-20th century Skálholt rose from ashes, due to its historical significance. The modern cathedral was consecrated in 1963. It is well known for its works of modern art, as well as for artefacts from previous churches on the site. In the crypt is an exhibition from the National Museum, including the sarcophagus of bishop Páll Jónsson (bishop 1195-1211), unearthed in 1954. Since then archaeological excavations at Skálholt have revealed many interesting finds that can be seen and studied there.
The Skálholt School was started as a folk college in 1972 and is presently run as a centre for culture, education and pilgrimage, and as a retreat.
Skálholt is 93km from Reykjavík, very close to Geysir, Gullfoss, Thingvellir and other key tourist attractions.
In the summer, Skálholt is a very popular place for tourists of many nationalities, some looking around for a while or only staying for a good meal or a cup of coffee. Skálholtsskóli is also an ideal place to hold meetings, conferences and similar events.