The most prized book in Iceland


By Mark Ellis –

Thordur Tomasson at the Skogar Museum

Iceland has a marvelous literary tradition that dates back to their celebrated sagas written in the 12th Century.

“There is a long tradition of the hand-copied manuscript,” says Kendra Greene, author of The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums (Penguin). “Poetry was sung across valleys from one shepherd to another,” she notes.

After the printing press arrived, the first book produced was the New Testament in 1540. Then came the upheaval of the Reformation, when Catholic clergy were killed and ornate altars burned.

Iceland’s only printing press survived the turmoil and the first complete Icelandic Bible, the Guðbrandsbiblía, was published in 1584 under the direction of the Protestant bishop.

Guðbrandsbiblía, 1584

Publishing the Bible for the first time in the heart language of the people was a very big deal, according to Greene. “For Iceland, it was the codifying of language and culture that happened, the standardization of it, by the fact that every church on the island ended up with one. Everyone pledged to contribute to it.”

That first Bible was 600 pages. “We know 500 of them were printed, that seven people worked two years to make them,” she says. Of the 500, two survive in the national library. There may be a handful that remain in their original churches, Greene believes.

When Iceland experienced a major volcanic eruption in 2010, the curator of the nearby Skógar Folk Museum, Thordur Tómasson, took with him only one thing.

“He had 15,000 objects to choose from in the museum, and he paused, surrounded by the personal and material history of a nation,” Greene notes.

He walked out with the 1584 Bible in his hands!

More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Psalm 19:10


“The curator of the Skógar museum is a native of Iceland’s sparsely populated southern coast, which is raked by fierce winds. He retired from the museum a few years ago but remains in tiny Skógar, population 21, at the foot of the ice-capped volcano.

“The Bible from 1584 is back in the museum. The ash from the 2010 eruption continues to sift through the air. Thordur Tómasson turned 99 in April and is at home writing his 27th book.”


To learn more about a personal relationship with God, go here

Video of Thordur playing the Zither below: