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When these doors are flung open, the appearance of the altarpiece is most striking. It is carved with the greatest delicacy in full relief, in the style of German art in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and is profusely coloured and gilt.
In the centre, A, is a noble representation of the Crucifixion; Jerusalem is visible in the background, the sun and moon are being obscured, crowds are thronging the foreground, the centurion pierces the sacred side with his lance, the Marys and S. John are at the foot of the cross, and the Blessed Virgin has fainted into the arms of the beloved disciple. Angels with chalices receive the blood from the five wounds. On either side of the central subject are tabernacles, or niches, containing single figures; these are—B, S. Katherine; C, S. Margaret; D, a female saint with panniers, and a child leaping up to them ; E, a female saint holding a tower, containing the Host; F-Q, the twelve apostles. R and S contain groups of figures, but what they represent I was unable to distinguish. This triptych is quite a masterpiece of carving, the figures are full of spirit, the faces are expressive, the drapery is carefully executed, the details of foliage delicately wrought; and the whole is as fresh and uninjured as it was when first erected in the cathedral. The weakest point is the colouring, as it is certainly overdone with gilding, and there is a deficiency of pure bright colour. A second altar-piece of alabaster, picked out with gold and colour, of a much older date, stands above the rood screen. It consists of a parallelogram, divided into seven compartments, the first of which contains a figure of S. John Baptist; the second, a representation of the Betrayal; the third, of the Flagellation; the fourth, of the Sacred Trinity; the fifth, of the Entombment; the sixth, of the Resurrection; and the seventh contains S. Katherine. The screen is of wood coloured; it is formed of pilasters much resembling the initial I's in old English MSS. The font stands north of the screen in the nave, and is of stone, with a circular bowl, carved with subjects from our Lord's life, such as the circumcision and the baptism. At first sight I took it to be of great age, as the style was much like our transition work from Norman to Early English, but on closer examination it proved to be of a date as modern as 1674. In one of the compartments is the inscription—
the drift of which I do not understand. The pulpit is an ugly modern erection of dark pine, standing on the south side. Near it I noticed a singular old lanthorn for three candles, with gabled sides. Above the font, hanging against the wall, is a life-size crucifix; over the door at the west end is a crucifix with SS. Mary and John ; another hangs in the chancel. The choir is adorned with portraits of the Protestant bishops. Gissur and his wife are represented kneeling before a crucifix, with the legend around the picture—
“Praesulis externum Gissuri prospice vultum,
There are two portraits of Guthbrand, the second Protestant bishop, who translated the Bible into Icelandic. One of these is an embroidered portrait in wools, worked by his illegitimate daughter; the other is in oils. Certainly the old gentleman showed his judgment in not suffering posterity to judge of his personal appearance only by the needlework production, between which and the painting there are only two points of resemblance, the ruff and the cap. This individual is buried in front of the altar beneath a large slab, on which is inscribed—
EXPECTO RESURRECTIONEM CARNIS
It is certainly satisfactory to notice that this tombstone bears testimony to the doctrine—that man's hope lies in the resurrection of the body, not in any translation of the soul to heaven after death, according to the popular modern opinion, which is at variance with the teaching of the creeds, Scripture, and Catholic antiquity, and which is probably a revival of long latent paganism. There is also a portrait of the coarse and fleshy Thorlak, third post-Reformation ruler of the see of Hólar, with his three ugly wives. In the nave are also some oil paintings in a bad condition; these are the portraits of King Christian W. and his gyldenlöve, also of Paul Gaimard the French traveller. The church once possessed a magnificent golden chalice, which was removed at the spoliation of the Icelandic church to Copenhagen, and is now in the Fruenkirke of the Danish capital. There remains, however, a very beautiful silver-gilt chalice, 73 inches high, and the bowl six inches in diameter. The knob is wrought in spirals of flower-work and beads. The design is late, probably of the sixteenth century, but the execution is inimitable. The paten is very plain. There remains also an ancient crimson velvet burse, embroidered with pearls; on one side is the Crucifixion, on the other the Annunciation. Between the ceiling and roof of the church is a lumber garret, in which the priest keeps his books, his husbandry tools, and his coffin. Among his volumes I noticed a MS. written at the end of last century, containing the Laxdoela, Eyrbyggja, Flóamanna, Vatnsdoela, Egils Skallagrímssonar, Bjarnar, Fostbroethra Sagas; and a second volume in folio containing Islendingabók, and the Kristni, Thorfins karlsefnis, Hoensa-Thoris, Gunnlaugs, Walla Ljóts, Kórmaks, Finnboga, Ljósvetninga, Wemundar, Thorsteins stangarhöggs, Thorsteins suthufari, Thorsteins frótha, Wäpnfirthinga, Hrafnkels, Brandkrossa, Droplaugarsona, Egils Sithuhallssonar, and Gunnar Keldugnupsfyfls Sagas. These transcripts, even though of modern date, are valuable, as they are exact copies of older texts. An Icelander reads his sagas aloud winter after winter, till the book is ready to fall to pieces, when he carefully transcribes it, and then casts the well-worn volume aside. I one day saw an old MS. of the Hrafnkels Saga in a byre, and offered to purchase it, but the farmer would not part with it at any price, because he had not yet copied it. In the 12mo. volume which I obtained at Grimstúnga, is the last page of the Ajax Saga; the rest had been gradually thumbed away, but the loose pages had not been lost till the farmer's daughter had carefully recopied them word for word. Arnoeus Magnoeus collected all the MSS. he could procure in the island, and pretty thoroughly ransacked it of all early vellum or parchment MSS. I am sure that the majority of these were transcribed before their owners parted with them. The library of Arnoeus Magnoeus was burned down, and a vast number of these precious MSS. perished. Their contents may, however, in a great measure be restored by collecting the copies still existing in Iceland, and comparing them with those in the Copenhagen libraries. The see of Hólar was founded in 1104, by Gissur White, Bishop of Skálaholti, and to fill it, Jón Ögmundson was unanimously elected. He was canonized by law in 1200. A story told of him is, that he once, as a layman, entered a church in Denmark, and heard the priest reading the Gospel so badly, that it roused his indignation, and Snatching the book from him, he read it in the most beautiful manner to the edification of the congregation. He was succeeded by a line of prelates distinguished for their piety and learning, till the series was closed in the zealous and faithful Jón Arnason, who fell beneath the Sword of the executioner, and with him fell the Icelandic Church. In prae-Reformation times, the Bishop of Hólar possessed 300 farms, pasturage for 15,000 cows, and the flotsam and jetsam along a considerable line of coast; besides these, he owned the island of Drängey, and two tolfaringir, the largest sized Icelandic vessels. But whenever the Church begins to lay up for herself treasures on earth, the State will watch her till the time comes to despoil her of her ill-amassed wealth ; and so it fared with the Church of Iceland. Everything belonging to the see of Hólar was confiscated, with the exception, by an oversight, of the rights of seizing on the drift; and now the pastor of Hólar receives only sixty-five dollars (7l. 6s. 8d.) per annum. As there are no church-rates, the sacred edifice would have fallen into complete ruin if the present archdeacon had not expended 800 dollars from his own pocket for several years in necessary repairs. The venerable man, now in his seventieth year, laments for the old times, and bewails the wholesale spoliation of ecclesiastical property, which took place in the unhappy period of the sixteenth century. He took me into the church, and, looking Sadly round on the damp walls, said— “When I am gone, who will care for God's house, or have the means of keeping it in repairl I have spent all that I could afford on the building to keep it water-tight, yet the pictures moulder, the vestments decay, the rot eats into the wood, and the walls begin to crumble.” The old man presented me with a book which I had long wished to possess, namely, Markusson's Nockrir Marg-Fróthir Sögu-Thoettir, in quarto. Behind Hólar I gathered two varieties of gentian (Gent. campestris, and G. bavarica), and as much moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) as I wanted. On going to the foot of the precipitous mountain at the back of the farm, I came upon a number of hillocks of rubble brought down from the moun