In the remote seafront village of Vik, the Reyniskirkja Church stands among the desolate and dazzling landscape of Iceland’s southern coast. Surrounded by an astonishing environment of cliffs, glaciers, and volcano, the Church is situated on a hill and overlooks the small coastal community.
An ancient village, Vik’s origins date back to the 9th century, and stories of drowned seamen and murderous trolls fill its folklore. According to legend, two trolls once kidnapped a man’s wife in the middle of the night and left her frozen to death. When the man found her, her spirit had found peace among the rocks and sea of Reynisfjara, and he warned the trolls never to kill anyone again.
Over the centuries, Vik continued to operate as a small seaside settlement, but it wasn’t until 1890 that traders permanently settled there. Residents sold flour, salt, sugar, and produce and eventually five grocery stores and two slaughterhouses were opened. In 1929, the Church was built and solidified Vik’s status as a community.
With its red roof and wooden frame, the Reyniskirkja Church is a classic example of an Icelandic church. The red roof is a common feature of churches found in Iceland’s countryside and its wooden framework is simple yet sturdy architecture that has stood since its construction in the early 20th century.
Vik is directly south of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which sits atop the Katla volcano. The volcano last erupted in 1918, and if an eruption were to occur, it could melt enough of the glacier to trigger a flash flood and decimate the town. Reyniskirkja Church is just high enough on its hill that it would be the only building to survive a flash flood. As such, villagers are instructed to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.