The fertile region of South Greenland is home to the well-preserved ruins of one of the first Christian churches on the North American continent - Hvalsey Church.
Long before Columbus ever had the idea of sailing west to try to find a shorter route to India, the Norse settlers from Scandinavia had established themselves in Greenland. The fertile South Greenlandic fjords had attracted Norse settlers from Iceland and many estates and farms had been established in the new country.
Hvalsey Church - more than a thousand years old
Christianity was spreading its influence throughout Europe and also reached the outer frontier in Greenland, where it established itself in the country in 1000 AD and the first churches were soon erected. Hvalsey Church was probably built in the 14th century, but is the best preserved of the churches in Greenland from that period.
5-6 metres high stonewalls
When you walk into the very well preserved church ruins, you can clearly feel the presence of history, almost as if the Norse settlers had only just left the building. Of course, the wooden roof and the interior are no longer present, but otherwise the church appears very much as it did when it was abandoned in the 15th century with stone walls towering up to a height of some 5-6 metres.
Today nothing is left of the churchyard that surrounded the church, although the stone wall that enclosed the churchyard can still be made out in the terrain.
An important gathering point
The sheep graze close by, nibbling the grass and the tender green shoots, a raven flies past and lets out a hoarse screech, but otherwise a visitor that arrives at this historic spot will be met by a silence that is almost deafening. The fells and the fjord which surround the church have not changed at all over the centuries.
People gathered here from far and wide to attend Christian festivals throughout the year. The ships of the Norse settlers were anchored side by side on the fjord, whilst other people arrived overland on horseback or on foot. Immediately west of the church there are ruins of a large residential complex with stables and a banquet hall for the many visitors.
Last deposition from 1408
The last recorded ecclesiastical event at Hvalsey Church was a wedding which took place on 16 September, 1408. An account of this event was recorded a couple of years later on Iceland. This record reveals that there were many people in the church that day, which is an indication that there were still many Norse settlers at that time.
On the fjord the Old Norse ships have been replaced by the modern motorboat, which sails present-day visitors to the church.
In South Greenland there are many ruins from this period and if you would like to visit this fascinating location in Greenland, the tourist office in Qaqortoq - Greenland Sagalands - will help you with more information. In Narsarsuaq the local tourist office and tour operator is Blue Ice Explorer. In Narsaq the local tourist office will be glad to help with information, tours etc.