The Migration Of Thorhadd The Old’s Temple To Iceland

A man known as Thorhadd the Old reportedly was the priest and owner of a temple in the Møre (or Moere) and Trondheim area of Norway, which was a sacred region for the traditional Norse religion. Thorhadd was a contemporary of King Harald Finehair of Norway (ruled approximately 860-940), whose reign coexisted with the so-called Age of Settlement period in Iceland (c. 860-930). Many Norwegians were, at that time, sailing to Iceland to start new lives on the island, and Thorhadd, too, was infected by the frenzy to claim new land. He joined the proverbial bandwagon (or ship), as it were, and began readying himself for a journey overseas to Iceland. Thorhadd, however, did not want to leave his temple and his religious duties behind. He nevertheless worked out a fix for his problem, and, as the legend goes, this solution was to bring his temple with him to Iceland.

Driven by his desire to travel, Thorhadd began carefully deconstructing his temple and preserving its pillars with as little damage as possible. He also scooped up some earth from the grounds of the temple, packaging the soil for sea travel. With his sacred lumber, earth and other supplies packed, the old priest was ready for his voyage. These details and more were preserved in the medieval Icelandic Books of Settlements (Landnámabók), which stated “Thorhadd the Old was a temple priest at Moere in Trondheim. He had a great desire to go to Iceland, but before he set off, he dismantled the temple and took the pillars and some earth from under the temple with him” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 297). After setting sail with his mobile temple and blessed earth, Thorhadd successfully crossed to the eastern coast of Iceland and disembarked near the Stöðvarfjörður region. There, Thorhadd the Old reportedly reassembled his temple and proclaimed that the nearby fjords were sacred land.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (cropped and modified section of The Reconciliation (from Frithiof’s saga), by August Malmström (c. 1829-1901), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Stockholm Sweden).




  • The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.

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