St. Magnus Cathedral was built over 700 years ago in the southernmost village of Streymoy. But it was never finished. Today, the building is not completed, without a roof, and suffering through all these years without any protection.
But this ruined church still stands today, making it the most significant medieval building on the Faroe Islands.
On the first day we Tórshavn, we woke up with snow outside. It was April, but snow was still on these beautiful islands in the middle of the Atlantic. We had breakfast, looking out 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 less than 20 minutes to a tiny village that almost felt 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 we were there, it felt like an abandoned place. We blame this on the rainy and cold weather.
But despite the few people living there, Kirkjubøur is home to much history. There, you will find the most important historical site in the Faroe Islands, the ruined St. Magnus Cathedral. The oldest still-used church in the Faroes can be located there, too.
Saint Olav’s Church has been in service since the 12th century, and you can recognize it as the small white church in the pictures. 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 the 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 say that the town had more than 50 houses around the time.
Most 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 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 world’s oldest still inhabited wooden house. Called Kirkjubøargarður, which means Yard of Kirkjubøur in Faroese, it is the largest farm in the Faroe Islands and has always been.
The building dates back to the 11th century, and it has been 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, unlike any other house we have seen on the islands. There are no forests in the Faroe Islands, and because of that, many legends have come 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.
Today, the farmhouse is a museum, but people still live there. Occupied in 1550 by the same family, Kirkjubøargarður is home to the 17th generation of the Patterson Family. The Faroese government owns the farm, and the Patursson family lives there as tenants from generation to generation.
According to tradition, the oldest son becomes the King’s Farmer, and the land is never divided between his sons.
On a typical 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 blamed 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 in the pictures below?
The Ruined St. Magnus Cathedral in Faroe Islands
When we started researching the Faroe Islands, St. Magnus Cathedral was one of the first sights that appeared to us. The largest medieval building in the Faroes lies 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 this is an exciting place to visit.
The building is not that impressive, but you must see things differently regarding 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 proof of that.
Nowadays, the people from the islands hope to get the St. Magnus Cathedral accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it seems like the prospect is not very specific. And it’s a pity since this cathedral, the farmhouse, and Saint Olav’s Church represent Faroe Island’s most fascinating historical site.
Magnus Cathedral and the Kirkjubøur Village
I visited Kirkjubøur in April 2016 by invitation from Visit Faroe Islands, and we loved everything we did there.