Hólar in Hjaltadalur has a long history of schools and education. Bishop Jón Ögmundsson’s cathedral school was founded in 1106, and after the Reformation in 1550 the school was converted to a Latin school that remained in operation until 1801. In 1882 an agricultural school was established at Hólar, and Hólar University College traces its roots to that institution. During the past 15 years, the school at Hólar has developed from a conventional agricultural school to a modern university-level institution.
On campus the architectural history of Iceland can be traced from traditional turf houses to the present day and the school has a policy of safeguarding this heritage through sustainable use. The main building, which houses the department of tourism, is the work of two of the first architects in Iceland and dates from 1910 and 1927 respectively. Among the most important architectural landmarks in Iceland is the cathedral consecrated in 1763.
Although Hólar is not mentioned in the Icelandic sagas, it is thought that it was settled by people from the early settlement of Hof, which is about 2,5 km south of Hólar. Hof, which is mentioned in the sagas, was settled by Hjalti Þórðarson whose sons became famous for their generosity and gallantry. The story tells that when they buried their father they gave the largest known burial feast in heathen times. Twelve hundred guests were invited and after the feast all men of distinction were sent on their way with valuable gifts. There is no doubt that their nobility and that of their descendants helped establish the fame and prosperity of Hólar.
In the middle of the eleventh century a kinsman of the Hof family named Oxi Hjaltason, who lived in Hólar, built a great church there. Around the year 1100 Hólar was owned by Illugi Bjarnason who, when a bishop's seat was established in northern Iceland, gave Hólar to the Church for that purpose.
Bishop's seat and the bishops
During Catholic times Hólar accumulated great wealth and was densely populated. During the peak of the bishop's seat era Hólar owned 352 estates that accounted for about a quarter of all the estates in the north of the country. Apart from that it enjoyed the privilege of driftwood (a valuabel resource) along with rights to other advantages in several surrounding areas. The first printing press in Iceland was installed here around 1530 and Hólar was the last stronghold of the Catholic Church during the Reformation. The present cathedral, consecrated in 1763, is the oldest stone church in Iceland.
Hólar remained a bishop's seat for almost seven centuries from 1106 until 1802 when Hólar was sold. During that era Hólar was the true centre of northern Iceland and one of the major cultural centres of the area. This status was partly due to the school that was around there for most of this time.
Of the thirty six bishops who resided at Hólar, twenty three were Catholic and thirteen Lutheran. Many of these have left their mark in Icelandic history. Among the most well known are Jón Ögmundsson, the Sacred (1106-1121), Guðmundur Arason the Good (1203-1237), Jón Arason (1524-1550) and Guðbrandur Þorláksson (1571-1627).
The first bishop in Hólar was Jón Ögmundsson the Sacred, who was ordained in 1106. He established and ran a seminary at Hólar and became very well known for this as well as his management of the church. The commonly used phrase "heim að Hólum" or "back home to Hólar" dates back to him.
Guðmundur Arason the Good was famous for his rivalry with some of the most respected chieftains in northern Iceland. Guðmundur went on to lead a band of followers in what became a semi vagrant life.
Jón Arason was the last Catholic bishop, he fought strongly against the Reformation and was finally beheaded along with his two sons in Skálholt in November 1550, and the resistance against the Reformation came to an end. Jón was a well known poet and it was he who brought the first printing press to Iceland in around 1530.
Guðbrandur Þorláksson was famous for his active book publishing, among of them was the first translation of the Bible into Icelandic, which was printed in 1584. The printing of this Bible is thought to have played a crucial role in the preservation of the Icelandic language.
Hólar became a vicarage after the bishop's seat was abolished until 1861 when the vicarage was moved to Viðvík. In 1952 Hólar was re- established as a vicarage and in 1986 it became the residence of the ordained bishop of the Hólar benefice.
The present bishop at Hólar is Jón Aðalsteinn Baldvinsson.
Cathedral school - Latin school - Agricultural school - University
Hólar in Hjaltadalur has a long history of schools and education. Bishop Jón Ögmundsson’s cathedral school was founded in 1106, and after the Reformation in 1550 the school was converted to a Latin school that remained in operation until 1801. In 1882 an agricultural school was established at Hólar, and Hólar University College traces its roots to that institution. During the past 15 years, the school at Hólar has developed from a conventional agricultural school to a modern university-level institution. In 2003, the College was granted permission to graduate students with an undergraduate degree, and on 1 July 2007 Hólar University College formally commenced operations.