The thick blanket of grass atop this church spills toward the ground, making it look as though the roof is melting into the landscape. Burial mounds concealed beneath the surrounding greenery seem to bubble toward the surface, creating the illusion of earth rising to swallow the building whole.
This fairytale-like building is the last turf church ever built in Iceland. Hofskirkja was originally constructed in 1884, though it was thoroughly restored in the 1950s. Unlike some of the country’s other turf churches, this one is still a practicing parish.
The church is made from a timber skeleton surrounded by sturdy stone walls. It’s capped by heavy stone slabs draped in a cloak of greenery, which helps keep heat from escaping into the often raw, chilly air. When viewed from the back, it looks as though the building has begun to sink into the lumpy terrain. This is because the church is partially buried in the ground, allowing the earth to act as natural insulation.
Turf buildings like this one once peppered Iceland’s villages. Using layers of dirt and grass to protect structures from bitter cold winters was a common practice throughout the region. It was particularly useful in Iceland, as the country’s early Nordic and Celtic settlers felled many of the island’s trees, leaving future generations with little available timber.
But the turf trend began to wane in the 20th century, when concrete took over as the building material of choice. Now, there are only six turf churches left in Iceland, all of which are protected as historical monuments.