Roman Catholicism in Iceland

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Number of Roman Catholics in Iceland as a function of time

The Roman Catholic Church in Iceland is part of the Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope. As of 2013 the Bishop of the Diocese of Reykjavík was Pierre Bürcher.[1] The diocese is not part of any ecclesiastical province (there is no archbishop or responsible archdiocese), and the bishop reports directly to the Holy See in Rome.


As of 2014, there were 11,454 Catholics in Iceland,[2] with 6 diocesan priests, 9 religious order priests, and 38 sisters in religious orders. Roman Catholics represent 3.5% of the Icelandic population.

Dioceses of Skálholt and Hólar[edit]

Before the Reformation, there were two dioceses in Iceland, the Diocese of Skálholt (first bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson, 1056), and the Diocese of Hólar (first bishop, Bl. Jón Ögmundsson, 1106).

Catholic revival[edit]

The Catholic Church established on December 8, 1855 a jurisdiction under the name Prefecture Apostolic of the North Pole (Praefectura Apostolica Poli Arctici) that included Iceland. Several years later, the two French priests Bernard Bernard (1821-1895) and Jean-Baptiste Baudoin (1831-1875) settled in Iceland in 1857 and 1858 respectively. They met with a difficult reception and in 1862, Bernard left the country, while Baudoin persevered until 1875. On August 17, 1869, Pope Pius IX set up Prefecture Apostolic of Denmark, to which Iceland passed. Freedom of worship was enacted in 1874. After an interval, Catholic missionary efforts were resumed, with church, school and even a hospital run by nuns by the turn of the century.

The former jurisdiction became a Vicariate Apostolic of Denmark on March 15, 1892. Thereafter, the island territory became for the Catholic Church an independent unit, first as the Prefecture Apostolic of Iceland on June 23, 1923 and then, not many years later, on June 6, 1929, as the Vicariate Apostolic of Iceland. It was on October 18, 1968 that this entity matured into the Diocese of Reykjavik. Even though the Catholic population remains small as a percentage of the overall population and in absolute numbers, it grew from about 450 in 1950 to 5,590 in 2004, during which time the total population grew from 140,000 to 290,000.

20th century[edit]

In the twentieth century Iceland had some notable, if at times temporary, converts to the Catholic faith. For a time Halldór Laxness was a Catholic. Although this did not last, his Catholic period is of importance due to his position in modern Icelandic literature. A more consistently Catholic writer in Icelandic was Jón Sveinsson. He moved to France at the age of 13 and became a Jesuit. He remained in the Society of Jesus for the rest of his life. He was well liked as a children's book author (though he did not write in Icelandic) and he even appeared on a postage stamp there. In 1989, Pope John Paul II visited Iceland.

21st century[edit]

The number of Catholics in Iceland, a predominantly Protestant country, comprises just under 3.5% of the population and is the third largest denomination in the country. The Diocese of Reykjavík covers the whole of Iceland. There is a Christ the King Cathedral (Dómkirkja Krists Konungs) in Reykjavík and a number of smaller churches and chapels in the larger towns. The Bishop of Reykjavík participates in the Scandinavian Bishops Conference. Many of the Catholics are Eastern European and Filipino immigrants; if they are excluded, Catholics are about 1% of the population (the figure before the immigrants started coming in large numbers).


See also[edit]

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