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between each horse, lest one should slip down upon the other.
When we reached the bottom of the mountain we had to pass a torrent, which descended in a noble waterfall, and then rolled angrily away under an arch of snow. This bridge was so rotten, that Jon hesitated for some time whether we could venture upon it, and at last sent over a horse as an experiment. The snow bore, and we drove the baggage pony across; cakes of snow fell off the bridge into the gorge, but the arch remained unbroken, so we all passed without accident. We had taken between five and six hours in crossing this heithi, and had been on our legs for a great part of the time. It was seventeen hours since leaving Akureyri, when we drew up at the door of the archdeacon's farm at Holar.
The old man received us very kindly. It was morning, and he with his wife and servant were already up, brisk as bees, and ready for a long talk. I was tired out and longed for bed, but hardly liked to get in before them, yet Grimr had just begun the Grimsey story, and that with all his grievances would last an hour at least. I fairly fell asleep with my head on the table, and was roused by Grimr, who recommended me to go to bed.
"But," said I; "these good people are in the room."
"Oh, don't mind us!" said the priest.
"Pray go to bed!" said his wife.
"Do let me pull your breeches off!" volunteered the maid.
I started up at the proposal, fully roused, and, with a flying leap, buried myself under the feather bed, then pulled off coat and waistcoat and curled myself up.
"Don't English people undress more than that when they go to rest?" asked the priest, who had been watching me gravely.
"He has got his breeches on," said the wife.
"I'll pull them off, if he likes," chimed in the maid with alacrity.
"Never, never!" I cried in desperation; "Grim, save me!"
Poor Ebenezer Henderson, the Bible Society delegate! the Icelanders still have a good laugh over his dismay, when first the ladies of the house insisted on dismantling his legs. This was according to etiquette in his time, though now happily falling into disuse. In his book he tells the story of his wild struggle to preserve his nether garments, but he neglects to mention the compromise which was effected, he coiling himself up in the coverlet, and letting the ladies pull at the strap-buttons. Henderson was a very good fellow, but he had no notion of a joke, and he only mentions the incident to found on it moral and pious reflections. Among themselves, it is still a common practice for the women to peel the men after their day's work, but the Icelanders have learned that strangers do not particularly relish this sort of attention, and they now seldom offer it.
After my first nap, Grimr came to bed; he was to share mine, so a pillow was put at the bottom of the bed for his head to rest upon, whilst his feet lay on the pillow by my head.
"Oh, Grimr!" said I; "this is dreadfully cramped!"
"Bless you !" he answered; "we sometimes sleep five in a bed of this size, head to foot, lying on one side and not stirring all night long."
It is not pleasant to have a calm dream of home interrupted in the middle of the night by the descent of a cold foot on one's face. Reader! may you never experience it!
The Cathedral—Altar Vestments—Triptych—Portraits and Tombs—MSS.— The Ancient Possessions of the Church—Repairs—Flowers—The Skagafjord—Drangey—Birds—Gannet—Puffin—Skua.
SOLAR is situated in a noble valley between mountains covered with snow. The soil is peculiarly fertile, and Hjaltadal is regarded as the garden of the north. There are two houses near the church, one the residence of the archdeacon, the other of a farmer. At the time that I was at Holar, all hands were engaged in the hay harvest, reaping down the grass with sickles, and raking it into little heaps. Although the tune is considered to produce some of the finest hay in Iceland, I believe that few blades of grass were longer than my fingers. The church, dedicated to S. Mary the Virgin, is a stone building sixty-four feet eight inches long, by twenty-nine feet four inches broad, and twenty-seven feet high. Its plan is a parallelogram, without either constructional tower or chancel. A bell chamber and porch are formed by partitioning off the west end of the church, and the ritual choir is separated from the nave by a screen. On either side of the building are seven windows: there is no opening at the east end, and the western gable is pierced by two windows, in which are hung the bells. Within the porch lies the largest bell of Holar— cracked. It is said to have tolled of itself when Jon Arnason, the last real bishop of Holar, suffered martyrdom.
The building was raised in the last century, and is devoid of all architectural merit; it is wonderfully like the railway station at Grangemouth, but the fittings within are full of interest.
To begin with the altar. This is the old stone altar belonging to the ancient cathedral, and measures five feet nine inches by three feet one inch high. It is enclosed within faded curtains of chequered blue silk and lace. The altar is vested: first, in a green leather frontal stamped with gold flowers, and a super-frontal to match, both falling to pieces, but very handsome; secondly, in an admirably preserved embroidered cloth, with five full-length figures on it, worked in colours on a buff ground. These represent—First, an angel with censer; second, Bishop Guthmundr, in white alb with red apparel, red stole, dalmatic striped blue and yellow, red chasuble flowered with gold, and blue orphrey, blue mitre and crozier particoloured red and blue; third, S. John of Holar, vested in white alb with blue apparel, red and yellow striped dalmatic, blue stole with brown fringe, blue chasuble with red orphrey, and violet mitre; fourth, S. Thorlak, vested like Bishop Guthmundr; fifth, an angel with censer and book. All the bishops have episcopal rings, pink gloves, red boots, puce fillets to their mitres, and brown maniples. They are represented as closely shaven; their hair, as well as that of the angels, is red. The angels are vested in blue and red, with hoods or tippets, and have bare feet; the chasuble is very full, almost circular. The altar is also covered with white linen, embroidered in red and blue thread, with a representation of the animals entering the ark.
On the holy table stand two brass candlesticks, one branch candlestick, also of brass, for three lights, dated 1679, and another similar stand, somewhat smaller. The priests' vestments hang over the curtain rods, and consist of an alb plain, a gold-coloured chasuble, and two of velvet, one crimson, the other green.
Above the altar is an immense triptych. The doors are painted on the outside, with Christ appearing as the gardener to the Magdalen, and with the martyrdom of S. Sebastian. 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