St. Magnus Cathedral started being built more than 700 years ago on the southernmost village on Streymoy. But it was never finished. Today, the building lays not completed, without a roof, suffering through all these years without any protection. But this ruined church still stands today making it the largest medieval building in Faroe Islands.
On the first day we Tórshavn, we woke up with some snow outside. It was April but there was still snow in these beautiful islands in the middle of the Atlantic. We had breakfast looking outside to see if there was any glimpse of hope for the weather to open up so we could drive to Kirkjubøur and see Magnus Cathedral. On the first moment of sunshine outside, we took our bags and camera and drove a little less than 20 minutes to a tiny village that almost felt like it was abandoned.
Our Visit to Kirkjubøur Village
The southernmost village on Streymoy is called Kirkjubøur and we have no idea how to say it without making a mistake. Sorry for that. This small village is home to less than a hundred people but, on the day that we were there, it felt like it was an abandoned place. We blame this on the rainy and cold weather.
But spite the low number of people living there, Kirkjubøur is home to a lot of history. It is there that you will find the most important historical site in Faroe Islands, the ruined St. Magnus Cathedral. The oldest still used church in the Faroes can be found there too. Called Saint Olav’s Church, it has been in service since the 12th century and you can recognize it as the small white church on the pictures here. Also, it is there that you’ll find the world’s oldest inhabited wooden house. Kirkjubøargarður dates from the 11th century and it’s a museum today.
As it happens almost everywhere in Faroe Islands, the ocean view in Kirkjubøur is gorgeous. Across the water there is an island called Trøllhøvdi that belongs to the village and it was given to the villagers as payment since it was their duty to ferry people there during medieval times.
Today Kirkjubøur may look like a small place surrounded by a beautiful landscape but the village was an important spiritual center in the Middle Ages. It was the episcopal residence for the Diocese of the Faroe Islands and some people say that the village had more than 50 houses around the time. Most of the houses from that time cannot be seen today since they were washed away into the sea in a powerful storm back in the 16th century. The islet that you can see close to the shore was created by that storm and contains ruins from that time and an eider duck colony.
The oldest still inhabited wooden houses of the world
We didn’t know it back when we visited Kirkjubøur Village but the beautiful black wood house with red doors is the oldest still inhabited wooden houses of the world. Called Kirkjubøargarður, which means Yard of Kirkjubøur in Faroese, is the largest farm in the Faroe Islands and it has always been. The building dates back to the 11th century and it was the episcopal residence and seminary of the Diocese of the Faroe Islands since then.
One unusual thing about this building is how it is made of wood like no other house we have seen in the islands. There are no forests in the Faroe Islands and, because of that, many legends came to be to explain how this wood appeared. Some say the house was built from driftwood from Norway. Some say other stories but we don’t know what to believe in.
Today the farmhouse is a museum but people still live there as well. Occupied since 1550 by the same family, Kirkjubøargarður is home to the 17th generation of the Patursson Family. The farm is owned by the Faroese Government and the Patursson’s family lives there as tenants from generation to generation. According to tradition, the oldest son becomes King’s Farmer and its land is never divided between his sons.
On a normal day, you can visit the museum, get a coffee there and buy fresh mutton and beef directly from the farm. We didn’t see any of these things there and we blame the bad weather for that. But we did see one of the sheep that lives there. We believe it was deaf or else how could we get so close to it from its back as you can see on the pictures below?
The Ruined St. Magnus Cathedral in Faroe Islands
When we first started researching Faroe Islands, one of the first sights that appeared to us was St. Magnus Cathedral. The largest medieval building in the Faroes lays in ruins today after its construction started in 1300. Bishop Erlendur ordered its construction but the building was never finished as it was never roofed. We cannot say why this happened but we can say that this is a interesting place to visit.
The building itself is not that impressive but you have to see things in a different way when it comes to these rocky islands in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Can you imagine building such a large church in a place that looks and feels like the pictures here? Can you imagine doing that more than 700 years ago? The Faroese people are though and this church is a proof of that.
Nowadays, the people from the islands are hoping to get the St. Magnus Cathedral accepted as an UNESCO World Heritage Site but it seems like the prospect is not very certain. And it’s a pity since this cathedral, together with the farmhouse and Saint Olav’s Church represent Faroe Island’s most interesting historical site.