Do dreams, visions and curses serve a purpose?
Could mystic warning signs have prevented the tragedies?
Jón Ingi Cæsarsson
Magic and tragedies often go hand in hand. One can say that ominous events have been known to trigger otherworldly communications to warn us of what is coming.
In Möðruvellir, it all started in the year 1316. The monastery had only stood there for 20 years at the time. It was a Canoca monastery of the Order of Saint Augustine. The monks had the tendency to be rowdy, irreverent and even careless. The monks were: Þorgeir, Þórður, Þorbjörn, Brandur and Ingimundur Skútuson.
|Drunkenness was not an unknown problem in the monasteries.|
One night when they came back drunk from the trading market Gásir, they were drunk and rowdy. They lit a lamp without taking the proper precautions and before they knew it, the entire monastery and the church next door went up in flames.
|Gásir - Medieval Trading Place North Iceland. Joaoleitao
|Gásir trading market. Joaoleitao|
|The view at Gásir. Joaoleitao|
|Image of Mother Mary salvaged from the fire in 1316. Þjóðminjasafn Íslands|
Möðruvellir had almost 400 years of peace before the next recorded tragedy.
In 1712 all the houses at Möðruvellir burned, except the church and two barns.
In the years from 1783 to 1874, Möðruvellir was the amtmann's residence. During this 90 year stretch, both houses that served as the amtmann's residence burned to the ground.
The first one burned the night of Feb 6th, 1826. Around 4:00 a.m. Amtmann Grímur Jónsson became aware of the fire in the house. He woke up those he could and jumped out the window, half naked.
|Amtmann Grímur Jónsson. He was the Amtmann at Möðruvellir during the years 1824-1833. Sigfús Eymundarson. On the right is Grímur's burial site at the Old Möðruvellir Cemetery |
Still in his night cloths, he smashed the window and jumped out barefooted. All his clothes and belongings burned. His life was spared, but not without consequences. His body suffered severe burn wounds.
The fire spread to the houses next door and two of them burned down. The residents were forced to flee into the freezing cold church and barn.
Shortly after the devastating fire, Baldvin sailed to Copenhagen to study. Six years later, he succumbed to his injuries. His death was considered a great loss.
|Baldvin Einarsson (1801-1833) was consider Iceland's first national liberator. Hansen, Schou&Weller
Right after the fire, Baldvin contemplated life and how unstable it was. He lost everything he owned, including all his work. He had just finished writing 20-30 letters that were to go Copenhagen.
Despite all his loss, he barely, if at all, missed his earthly valuables. He felt that we shouldn't rely on our earthly belongings. They are like deceitful dogs, he wrote.
The saddest thing to him was to watch Grímur with half his face burnt, standing in the snow with his half-naked wife and children crying.
The Danish king, Frederick VI, donated money to build a brick house which was called Friðriksgáfa (Frederick's gift).
|Portrait of Frederik VI (1784-1839) in gala uniform wearing the Order of the Elephant, a silver merit cross and badge and breast star as a Grand Commander of the Order of Dannebrog. After F. C. Gröger's portrait dated 1809. Bruun Rasmussen|
|Rev. Jón Stefán Sveinsson (1857-1944). Unknown
Sunday morning On March 5th, Jón lied resting in his bed. From his bedroom up on the loft in the old farm house, he could tell something troublesome was going on. The ruckus and the running in and out of the house was not normal.
He got out of bed, and to his surprise, he was alone in the room. There should have been others there with him. Worried about the slamming of doors and all the shouting, he rushed over to the window which faced the front gate.
From his window, he saw the west side of the church and it was engulfed in flames. The young Jón froze as he just stood there and watched the church burn.
|The church as it looked before the fire. Morgunblaðið|
|The burning church by Arngrímur Gíslason 1829-1887. Three men made inside a broken window and brought out the baptism fountain, two candle holders and two benches. Arngrímur also rand inside to save the altar tablet. He used the altar tablet as an inspiration when painting for other churches. Arngrímur painted this event when the church was on fire. Arngrímur Gíslason|
When he got close enough to see the farmstead, it was all very still and quite. There was no sign of a fire anywhere.
|Arngrímur Gíslason in 1865.
Arngrímur was staying at Möðruvellir. A few days later, while he was still there, the church caught fire. It has since been believed that his vision was a premonition.
|During the fire, the steeple fell to the ground, hitting the grave of Rev. Jón Jónsson the Learned (1759-1846), and permanently cracking his gravestone. On the right the young boy is pointing at the stone. Photos by Birgitta Lúðvíksdóttir|
While the church was on fire, Arngrímur ran inside. He cut the altar tablet out of its frame, rolled it up and ran back out. After this, Arngrímur painted many altar tablets in churches in the northern parts of the country.
|The altar tablet in Þverárkirkja. It shows the resurrection of Christ. He is wearing a red robe and exiting the tomb. Two men are watching the tomb: one of them is sleeping while the other one is awake. An angel has opened the tomb. To the left, a woman is looking into the tomb opening. In the background is Jerusalem. In the bottom left of the tablet, it is signed, Ch. Vanloo, but on the right side, it shows Arngrímur's signature. It has been said that the original image can be traced back to the burned church at Möðruvellir. When Arngrímur ran into the burning church to save the altar tablet, it's believed that it was severely damaged and he was allowed to keep it. He then used it to recreate its image and painted this tablet. It's calculated that it was painted in 1879. In 1883, the tablet was taken to Þverárkirkja. This is why the official description of the tablet is that it is Arngrímur's copy of a painting by the French artist, Charles-André van Loo (1829-1887). Már Viðar Másson|
Möðruvellir was not to be without a church. Þorsteinn Daníelsen from Skipalón was hired to build a new church. For the structural design, Þorsteinn used The Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen as inspiration.
| Þorsteinn Daníelsson (1796-1882) and his grandson, Þorsteinn Sigurjónsson. Sarpur.is|
One Sunday when the church goers were gathering for mass in the Copenhagen church, they saw a man hugging the church. They figured it was a religious zealot giving God's house a joyous embrace.
In reality this was just Þorsteinn. He was measuring the church with his arms the same way haybales were measured.
The Church of Our Lady (Danish: Vor Frue Kirke).
In March 21st, 1874, some of the residents at Friðriksgáfa were: The amtmann Kristján Kristjánsson (1806-1882), his wife Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir Thorstensen (1824-1897) & foster kids, the amtmann's scribe, Jón Kristjánsson, student Friðrik j. Bergmann (1858-1918), student Pálmi Pálsson (1857-1920), teacher Rev. Árni Jóhannsson (1842-1880) and a 40-something-year-old mentally ill man, Sigurður Bjarnason.
|Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir Thorstensen by Unknown and Kristján Kristjánsson by Sigfús Eymundsson|
In the early morning ours between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. Jón woke up to the fire and rushed to the bedroom window, which was up in the loft right above the amtmann's office. Through the window he saw the glow from the fire.
He ran over to the other workers up in the loft to alert them.
Realizing he was still wearing his night clothes, he hurried and got dressed. He then ran over to the stairs, but by the time he reached them, the hallway downstairs was completely smoke filled. Jón turned around and ran back to the window and jumped out.
|Some of the men in the house at the time of the fire were, from the left: Friðrik J. Bergmann. Died a sudden and unexpected death (heart attack) when he collapsed on the bus on his way to see his wife. Heimskringla; Rev. Árni Jóhannsson. While at sea, he, his brother and a friend drowned when their boat got flipped over. ísmús; Pálmi Pálsson. Died unexpectedly of a heart attack soon after arriving in Copenhagen. He had been in poor health and went there to seek help. Uknown.|
The other workers didn't get the chance to put clothes on and jumped half-naked out the window behind Jón. They all landed in the snow. One of the workers made it down the stairs to warn the people sleeping down stairs.
Before long the fire devoured the entire house.
|The amtmann's quarters. Saga Menntaskólans á Akureyri|
Jón realized that there was no hope in saving those left inside and began running south and east of the house where the down stairs bedrooms were located. The amtmann's wife and foster children were already climbing out the window when he got there. The amtmann had ran over to his office to try to save as many documents as possible.
Jón climbed inside the house to find the amtmann. He found him near death as he was suffocating from the smoke and pushed him through the window.
|Möðruvellir and Friðriksgáfa (Eng.: Fredrick's gift). Carsten |
Once they were all out, the men began calling out to Sigurður, who was severely mentally unstable. His bed was upstairs with the other workers. They couldn't find him anywhere, so they tried to get back into the house to look for him, but the fire and the thick smoke was flaming out every window, making it impossible to get back inside.
The flames were large and appeared to be spreading. The men began to fear that the church and the rest of the farmstead were in danger.
Men from the nearby farms had rushed over as soon as they noticed the fire and helped stop the fire from spreading.
Friðriksgáfa burned to the ground with only the naked walls and the chimney left standing. The men could now start carrying water and snow over to the ruins.
While rummaging through the ruins, they found a metal safe where the amtmann kept money and other official documents. It had withstood the fire. The amtmann kept the key under his pillow and when they looked, they found the key in the exact spot where his pillow had once been.
At the time of the fire, there had been an earthquake in the area. It is believed that the earthquake knocked the stove in the amtmann's office on its side, releasing glowing ashes unto the floor.
|Möðruvellir as explained by archeological research paper. Above are three photos of Möðruvellir from 19th century. Top: view from the north in the year 1836; Middle: view from southeast in 1856; Bottom: view from southeast right before 1900. In the top photo you can see the turf houses and Friðriksgáfa to the south. In the bottom photo it has been turned into a school and a principals house in front of the turf house. Fornleifastofnun Íslands|
In 1880, A school was built on Friðriksgáfa foundation. On March 22, 1902, was the day before Palm Sunday. The schoolboys had just finished their classes and were downstairs eating lunch.
The16 year old, Friðrik Klemensson was on his way up to the sleeping quarters when he was met with intense fire. He ran back downstairs and alerted the others.
The pipe from a much used stove in the top loft had caught fire. The fire was so intense that no attempts were made to quench it. The focus was solely on saving as many valuables as possible from the building. By 6:00 p.m. the school had burned to the ground.
The school master at the time was Stefán Stefánsson (1863-1921), one of the founders of the newspaper Norðurland. The editor of the newspaper was Stefán's good friend, the devout spiritist, author and poet, Einar H. Kvaran. You will hear him mentioned frequently in my other blog posts.
|Möðruvellir Jr. High, 1881. On the right the building of the theatre is in process. Saga Menntaskólans á Akureyri|
The last recorded fire was in 1937. On October 20th, 1937, the residential home burned. It was a duplex. The south end was built in 1889, but the north end not until 1897.
On the northside lived Rev. Sigurður Stefánsson (1903 - 1971) with his family. On the south end lived Eggert Davíðsson (1909-1979) with his family. About 20 people total lived in the house at the time of the fire.
The fire originated when some of the residents were cleaning clothes with gasoline and fire ignited in the wash tub where the clothes were.
Most of the church records burned in the fire, leaving next to nothing about its history from the period 1869-1928.
|The men are standing in the ruins of what was left of the residential home (that Stefán Stefánsson had built) after the fire on October 20th, 1937. Eðvarð Sigurgeirsson|
|The residential home before it burned to the ground. It was built in 1892. Saga Menntaskólans á Akureyri|
A part of the records that burned in 1937 were the grave lot records and therefore it's not known where or how many people were buried before the time of the fire.
Among the remains from the burned down school they found a large axe. Many believe the axe cursed the place due to its ominous usage.
It was said that the axe was used at the execution at Vatnsdalshólar (Þrístapar). You can read about this tragic execution in my blog post here.
The axe had been moved to the amtmann's residence in Möðruvellir. It's last place was in a small storage room at the school's loft where no one paid any attention to it.
The years it was at Möðruvellir, there were at least three devastating fires: the church in 1865, Friðriksgáfa in 1874 and the school in 1902.
Now the axe can be found at the national museum.
|The blade of axe used Iceland´s last beheading and the one stored in Möðruvellir. Some believe that storing the axe there cursed the place and was the reason for the three fires.
|Ásgrímur Jónsson painted Möðruvellir. Saga Menntaskólans á Akureyri|