No point on the sprawling eighteen Faroe Islands is more than five kilometers from the sea.
For, when it was founded, the Vikings settled for the location of Kirkjubour, almost at the bottom of Streymoy, the largest of the islands.
Kirkjubour is only 11km from Torshavn. Fulfilling them involves ascending the great eastern slope that houses the Faroese capital. Advance across a vast grassy plateau and then along the half-slope of one of the many deep fjords that furrow the nation's map and landscape.
Adventurous, the road follows the winding water line of the Sanda River. At a certain point, it bends to the south, it becomes slender and tangent to the threshold of another great fjord, the Hestfjordur. Little by little, it descends to the foothills of Streymoy, the opposite of the capital where we had started our journey.
It was the third time we had approached Kirkjubour. The first two we saw them made impossible by unfavorable weather, powerful winds and low, dark cloudiness that unloaded endless rain.
On this last occasion, we enter the village on a morning of almost clear skies and radiant sun, a boreal blessing, even though it was the beginning of July, in the middle of summer in these northern latitudes.
Via Gamlivegur leaves us in front of a dark and smooth sea and close to the historic heart of the village, half-walled with the church of Olav, with the almost millenary farmhouse of Kirkjuboargardur (Quinta do Rei), long considered the largest and most Ancient Faroe Islands. It leaves us in the vicinity of the ruins of the cathedral of Saint Magnus.
Today, Kirkjubour is reduced to historical testimony, an inhabited and living legacy of its era of medieval splendour.
It is estimated that the Faroe Islands had as pioneer inhabitants Celtic hermits, arriving, with livestock, from islands off the coast of present-day Scotland, the Shetland, the Orcadas or the Hebrides, the exact origin is unknown.
It is known that, in this period of time, the Faroe were known as at Scigiri ou skeggjar, which would translate as the islands of the Barbudos, according to the long hairs of the cenobites who shared them.
Other visitors frequented the islands of the Faroe archipelago from time to time. This would have been the case of Saint Brendan, a monk from present-day Ireland.
A more or less consensual conclusion today is that, at one point, the archipelago was occupied by colonies of Vikings seeking refuge.
The Faerayinga saga (from the Faroe Islands) tells that the first to land arrived from Norwegian lands at the end of the ninth century, beginning of the tenth, in a stampede from their villages that the tyrannical and centralizing government of King Harold I – also known as Harold of the Beautiful Hair – had made too risky.
As had been the case for a long time, these newcomers organized themselves into clans. And, as was also customary, the clans came into conflict. The inhabitants of the Northern Isles almost annihilated those of the south. They forced us to extreme survival measures. Kirkjubour came, unexpectedly, from these measures.
We leave the car. We crossed paths with a group of hikers returning from an expedition along the surrounding coast, which, given their tired air, would have been a long one.
Right next door, the beauty and grandeur of Roykstovan dazzles us at a glance, one of the oldest still inhabited wooden buildings on the face of the Earth (XNUMXth century, probably the oldest) in dark wood, with red moldings and turf roofs leafy.
Any wooden structure is prodigious in the Faroe, where trees are rare, in the ancestral times of colonization, non-existent. The one from the Kirkjuboargardur farm will have been brought from the Norway in tow of boats, possibly from drakkars.
We circled the large house, paying attention to architectural details that any southern European outsider would classify as eccentric.
Columns with the heads of dragons sticking out their tongues, shields with ax lions raised, other winged creatures we have a hard time defining.
A wooden carving of what looks like a helmeted tribal chief. And a strange symbol disk molded around another feline.
More and more dazzled, we move into the interior, an entire house-museum of yellowish wood and reddened by time, with rooms accessible through tiny doors if we take into account the Viking imagery and the height and height of the Nordic people, warmed by furs under large horned helmets.
The immediate room, we saw it endowed with long tables for repast and tobacco, with benches to match, equipped with a centuries-old stove, full of ropes, agricultural instruments and decorative pieces, under the supervision of an overhanging cow's skull.
On an upper floor, closed, but visible through a wide orifice, as a provocation, we also find a library office presided over by historical photographs of the family, descendants of the first inhabitants of the farm, which has already housed eighteen of its generations.
This linearity takes us back to the strife of the northern isles clan vs the southern isles clan.
Also according to the Faerayinga saga, Sigmundur Brestisson, one of the leaders of the south, sailed on the run to Norway. In the motherland, he received the royal order to conquer the entire archipelago in the name of Olav I, the king responsible for the Christianization of the Norwegian people.
Sigmundur Brestisson not only succeeded but extended this Christianization to the still pagan inhabitants of the Faroese archipelago under Norwegian rule, until 1380, when Norway joined Denmark.
In this process, Sigmundur Brestisson established that the episcopal residence of the Diocese of the Faroe Islands would be located in Kirkjubour.
As the colony's religious hub, the village quickly expanded to a limit of 50 homes. It increased from year to year when, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, a flood generated by the worst of the storms suffered by the archipelago, dragged most of these houses to the sea.
The base of the Cathedral of Saint Magnus has remained there until today, projected as the largest Christian temple in the Faroes and which, even incomplete, remains the largest medieval building in the nation.
For some time, it was believed that the cathedral built by a Bishop Erlendur had never been completed. Recent archaeological data contradicted this theory. After the Reformation in 1537, the Diocese of the Faroe Islands was abolished and the cathedral of Saint Magnus left to be abandoned. In 1832, a rune stone left by Viking settlers was found there.
From 1997 onwards, the authorities decided to carry out phased restorations. These works avoided the collapse of the structure. We were granted the privilege of seeing it from the inside, of admiring the firmament framed in the stone of the great nave and, at its bottom, the “golden locker” which holds the relic of the Patron Saint of Iceland, Thorlak, along with relics of other Norse holiness.
The same authorities are hoping, with reluctance, that UNESCO will classify the cathedral as World Heritage.
Meanwhile, right next door, almost on the sea and surrounded by the walled cemetery of Kirkjubour, the predecessor church of Saint Olav, completed before 1200 and thus the oldest church in the Faroes, until the so-called Reformation of 1537, stands immaculate. , the seat of the Catholic Bishop of the archipelago.
The descendants of the oldest people of Kirkjubour esteem their past as something almost sacred. Some of the seventy residents of the village now, many, owners of the nickname Patursson take this heritage to incredible extremes.
Tróndur Patursson, painter, glassmaker, sculptor and adventurer is one of the most renowned Faroese artists. When not occupied with his production and exhibitions, spaces, Tróndur, even devotes himself to expeditions to reconstitute the primordial history of the Faroe Islands.
In 1976, in partnership with Tim Severin, he carried out a transatlantic crossing in a replica of a leather-hulled boat named “Brendan” in honor of the Irish monk who is believed to have performed the same trip centuries before the vikings or Christopher Columbus.
In order to create a better image of these times of wild sailings, we walked along the rock jetty that extends from the southeast wing of the church of Saint Olav, into Hestfjordur.
From there, we admire the current village in a decent panoramic format, scattered at the foot of a rocky cliff that the short Estio had already had time to weed and sprinkle with yellow flowers. Carried by horses with shiny manes in the wind.
Returning to the grassy surroundings of the church of Saint Olav, we stroll among the tombs and tombstones of the old village, keeping an eye on the records of their past lives.
Since our days, to those who saw the birth of almost millenary Kirkjubour.