Selvogur, Iceland | C.1888

Photo Credit: Pauline Pietruszka

Historically, lighthouses have stood as crucial (literal) landmarks and beacons of safety for sea-bound travelers. On the southern coast of Iceland, seafarers look to a place of worship for navigation and a guiding light. Known as the “miracle church”, the Lutheran church of Strandarkirkja has kept watch over those sailing along the Atlantic Ocean for centuries.

The church’s origin story is steeped in lore—perhaps delivered by a rummed-up sailor spinning yarn after a wayward journey— that begins with a group of seamen lost at sea during a storm. Finding themselves adrift, they prayed to God for a rescue, vowing to build a church wherever they landed. As the legend insists, an angel appeared at their bow and led them safely into a bay. Making good on their heavenly promise, the sailors built a wooden church on that very site.

Strandarkirkj church and the surrounding Engilsvík, or “Angel Bay” have remained sites of profound spiritual and cultural influence. The church has maintained a reputation as a source of divine power, with many miracles being attributed to the church’s nearby presence. At one time, the church became one of the wealthiest in Iceland, due in large part to an outpouring of grateful donations by locals and countrymen, who then set off on pilgrimages to the site, praying for an angelic visit.

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