Leirubakki in 1944
The farm of Leirubakki is old and it has been a major estate since ancient times. Leirubakki is mentioned in many medieval sagas, such as the Bishops’ sagas and Sturlunga saga, and there was a church on the farm for six centuries. The lands of Leirubakki are extensive, covering nearly a thousand hectares, and the farm once owned the outlying farms of Leirubakkahóll, Leirubakkahjáleiga, Réttarnes and Vatnagarđur.
The earliest written source on Leirubakki is a church register compiled around 1200 by Bishop Páll Jónsson of Skálholt. There has been a church at Leirubakki since 1180 at least, when St. Ţorlákur the bishop of Skálholt is said to have visited the farm during his dispute with the chieftain Jón Loftsson of Oddi. According to the saga of St. Ţorlákur, Jón ambushed the saintly bishop when he left Leirubakki after having dwelt there ‘for the night at a joyful feast’. A church stood at Leirubakki until 1766, and it had a resident priest in medieval times, when the church was dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle. The church’s graveyard can still be seen, and some items from the church are preserved.
The first known owner of Leirubakki was Kolskeggr ‘the wealthy’. He was a local chieftain and died in 1223. The second known owner is the famous historian Snorri Sturluson who was married to Hallveig, the daughter of Kolskeggr’s sister. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the owners and farmers of Leirubakki were well-known Icelanders, such as Árni Ólafsson, Björn Ţorleifsson, the governer of Iceland, and Björn’s widow, Ólöf ‘the rich’. In the 17th century, the farm belonged to Bjarni Sigurđsson, one of the wealthiest men in Iceland whose son, Magnús Bjarnason, inherited the farm and was the king’s bailiff. Magnús was on his father’s side descended from Torfi Jónsson, who was governor of Iceland, and Magnús was also the fourth man from Bishop Jón Arason of Hólar.
Leirubakki is widely mentioned in ancient documents, sagas and folklore, and there are medieval inventories of the church’s possessions. The place-names Álfatún ‘Elf-hayfield’ and Álfaţúfa ‘Elf-tussock’ lie close to the farmstead and there is a curious legend associated with these place-names recorded in folktale-collections. The so-called ‘Leirubakki-ghost’ was notorious in Iceland until the 20th century, and much has been written about his many exploits.
Tourists have come to Leirubakki since 1980. Horses are bred at Leirubakki, which is also a sheep-farm. In the summer, the sheep are driven onto high pastures as has been the custom through the ages.
Nowadays, nobody knows what the churches at Leirubakki in former centuries looked like. Perhaps the first church was a bit like the one at the picture here, which is of a stave church in Öye, Norway, which was build in the 12th century. It is known that such churches were built in Iceland during the first centuries of Christianity in the country.