Kirkjubæjarklaustur, or Klaustur as the locals call it, is a small village on the south coast of Iceland. You’ll find it just off the Ring Road, between the towns of Vík í Mýrdal and Höfn. It’s believed that Irish monks lived here even before the Norsemen settled Iceland in the 9th century.
This picturesque village sits at the crossroads of some of Iceland’s must-see sights. Among them is Vatnajökull National Park, home of the Laki craters, and Skaftafell Nature Reserve.
1.5 km (1 mi) east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur you’ll find Kirkjugólf, meaning ‘church floor’. This formation got its name from its honeycomb-shaped basalt columns that look like tiles on a church floor. Take a 10 km (6 mi) drive west of the village, and you’ll come across the breathtaking Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.
Surrounded by rolling hills and Iceland’s tallest trees, the village itself is also worth a visit. Stop by the triangular chapel dedicated to reverend Jón Steingrímsson. It’s believed that Steingrímsson saved the village from the Laki volcanic eruption by reciting the Eldmessa (‘the Fire Mass’).
To see the aftermath of this eruption for yourself, visit nearby Eldhraun, one of Iceland’s largest lava fields. Or go on a hike to the top of the Systrafoss waterfall to see Lake Systravatn and soak up sweeping views of the village.
Visit this tranquil village and you’ll find it hard to imagine it has a history of dark lore and religious scandal. From 1186, Kirkjubæjarklaustur was home to a convent of Benedictine nuns. Legend has it, two of the nuns sold their soul to the devil and explored carnal knowledge with men among other things.
As punishment, they were executed and buried at Systrastapi, or Sister Rock, a steep rocky hill west of the village. After the Reformation in 1550, one of the nuns was found innocent, and it’s said that flowers bloomed over her grave, while the other remained barren.