In the early 12th-century, Norse settlers of Greenland established the first bishop seat on the island in the southern village of Garðar. There, a cathedral dedicated to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, was founded by Greenland’s first bishop Arnaldur in 1126.
The church was composed of red sandstone and is the only known cruciform religious building in Greenland. The original structure was expanded in the following decades to include a bell tower and two chapels. During the 13th and 14th-centuries, the town of Garðar was a thriving farming village thanks to the mild weather. The farm around the cathedral was big enough to hold 100 cows and the bishop lived in a palace surrounded by wealth acquired by heavily taxing the population.
Because of several factors such as the Black Death in Europe and a worsening climate that eventually led to the Little Ice Age, ships sailing from Norway to Greenland became rarer and the settlements were slowly abandoned. The last bishop that lived in Garðar died in 1378, but new bishops were appointed until 1537, even though none of them ever visited the diocese.
Now, the settlement of Igaliku is located where Garðar once was, and excavations on the site of the former cathedral began in 1926. Walrus skulls and narwhal remains were found here, suggesting that a pagan temple could have been operating in or around the church. A skeleton of a powerful bishop was also found along with various religious ornaments.