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Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 – October 27, 1674) was one of Iceland's most famous poets and a minister at Hvalneskirkja and Saurbær in Hvalfjörður. The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík and the Hallgrímskirkja in Saurbær are named after him. He was one of the most influential pastors during the Age of Orthodoxy (1580-1713). Because of his contributions to Lutheran hymnody, he is sometimes called the Icelandic Paul Gerhardt.



The Hallgrímskirkja in Saurbær.

Hallgrímur Pétursson was born at Hólar, where his father was the bell-ringer and his uncle, the resident bishop. He ran away from home young and left Iceland with merchants. He was not heard from again until Brynjólfur Sveinsson, an Icelandic priest travelling through Glückstadt (now in Germany but then a part of Denmark), heard Hallgrímur curse his employer in Icelandic. Brynjólfur took pity on the boy and sponsored him to attend seminary in Denmark at Church of Our Lady (Copenhagen).

During his last year of study there, Pétursson was employed to reëducate a group of Icelanders who had been kidnapped by Barbary pirates and ransomed. Among them was a married woman, Guðríður Símonardóttir, sixteen years Pétursson's senior, whom he impregnated. He then left seminary and returned with the group to Iceland. After Guðríður discovered that her husband had died, she and Pétursson promptly married. He worked as a labourer for a number of years.

Seven years after Pétursson's return to Iceland, Brynjólfur Sveinsson, his former sponsor and then bishop at Skálholt, appointed Hallgrímur as minister at Hvalsnes. Some people were surprised that the ungraduated worker should be ordained, but Hallgrímur showed himself a skillful preacher. In 1651, he was reassigned to Saurbær in Hvalfjörður, a much sought-after position. He served there until his death in 1674 from leprosy.


Hallgrímur Pétursson

Hallgrímur Pétursson's most notable work is Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar or, in full, "Historia pínunnar og dauðans Drottins vors Jesú Kristí, með hennar sérlegustu lærdóms-, áminningar- og huggunargreinum, ásamt bænum og þakkargjörðum, í sálmum og söngvísum með ýmsum tónum samsett og skrifuð anno 1659": "The history of the pain and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with its special learning, reminding, and consoling articles, with prayers and praises, in psalms and songs with misc. notes, compiled and written in the year 1659"), a collection of fifty hymns to be sung, one each working day, during the seven weeks of Lent. Each hymn has a title denoting which part of the Passion of Christ it refers to, and a reference to a melody for it to be sung to.

Other famous works include Aldarháttur, Rímur af Lykla-Pétri og Magellónu, Króka-Refs rímur, and a collection of cautionary children's rhymes.

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