This illustration, by the Norwegian artist Andreas Bloch (1860–1917), depicts a scene from the Icelandic Laxdæla Saga, a text that purports to tell the history and folklore of the first generations of settlers in the Laxardal region of Iceland. Featured in this artwork is Gudrun, one of the main female protagonists of the saga. In this sad and supernatural scene, Gudrun walks to church while her husband, Thorkel Eyjolfsson, was out sailing at sea. Unbeknownst to Gudrun, her husband’s ship had capsized that day, causing everyone onboard—including Thorkel—to drown. Gudrun, however, would be given a rude awakening to this tragic news, for her husband and his crewmates would visit Gudrun one last time in ghostly form before heading off on their journey into the unknown. Here is how the scene played out in the saga:
“Gudrun went towards the church as she had intended, and when she had reached the church she thought she saw that Thorkel and his companions had arrived home and stood outside the church. She saw the seawater dripping from their clothing. Gudrun did not speak to them but entered the church and stayed there as long as she cared to. She then returned to the main room, thinking that Thorkel and his companions would have gone there. When she reached the house there was no one there. Gudrun was then very shaken by all these occurrences” (Laxdæla saga, chapter 76).
Such is the tale that inspired Andreas Bloch’s illustration. After the drowning of her husband, Gudrun did not remarry. Instead, she was said to have lived out the rest of her days as a nun.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Saga of the People of Laxardal and Bolli Bollason’s Tale, by an anonymous 13th-century Icelander and translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.