Daði Guðmundsson came from a long line of priests. (Pronounced Dathy Gudmundsson) His own father, grandfather and great grandfather, were known priests and assistant priests in the southern region of Iceland in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Iceland is a Christian country having converted to Christianity in 1000AD from paganism. In 1551 the reformation of religion took place in which the doctrine of the Lutheran Church was instated as the religion for Iceland over the old Icelandic faith which favoured the practices of the Catholic Church.
Reverend Daði, as was his title, was a priest in the district of Mýrdal in south of Iceland around the same time that the well known Reverend Jón Steingrímsson, moved south to Reynishverfi. They were good friends and later colleagues as priests in neighbouring parishes. In his memoirs, “Æfisaga”, Jón gave this description of Daði:
“He was not a prosperous man, and was often with me at Hellum; I often took care of his children. He was a joyful man and loved to sing, which suited my temperament, was funny and good with verse, however he was not a very grateful person. I didn’t let that bother me, as he was my priest and as his parishioner, should overlook such things because of his position.”-Lesbók Morgunblaðsins 9 Jan 1966 by séra Gísla Brynjólfsson.
Daði Guðmundsson was my 6th great grandfather. He was born on the 6th of August 1706, the only child of Guðmundur Jónsson and Ingibjörg Daðadóttir. His father was a poet and an assistant priest in Steinsholt, Gnúpverjahreppur, Árnessýsla, (See map below). His mother Ingibjörg was born and raised in Steinsholt and this is where Daði’s mother and father would have met. Ingibjörg’s father Daði Halldórsson was a priest at Steinsholt also in his time, and an assistant priest at Hruna in Hrunamannahreppi and Stóra-Núp in Gnúpverjahreppi over various years. It is easy to see why Daði himself must have either felt the push, whether from his own family members or within himself to pursue a career in the clergy.
Iceland during Daði’s time was a country wrought with poverty and hardship. Not only were the weather and landscape a contender for survival but also men who sought to take advantage of the country and its inhabitants. Denmark was its sovereign, their king was Frederick IV. Learned men were respected peers of society but the ruling Danish merchants and men of government still thought themselves far above the dregs of society; the common people of Iceland. For Daði, a position in the clergy would have been a respectable position for him to aspire to.
Daði was only a year old when his father died in 1707 possibly from a terrible smallpox epidermic which ravaged Iceland in 1707 killing about 18,000 people. His mother remarried a widower man by the name of Kort Magnússon, a law enforcer (lögréttumaður) at Árbær. He drowned in 1733 in a little lake between Lækjarbotna and Kýraugastaðasels in the south of Iceland. I wonder how difficult Daði’s childhood was. It certainly was for his mother, who lost two husbands in her lifetime. Daði was her only child but I wonder what events shaped this boys life, for the man he grew to be was deeply flawed.
The road he travelled was a bumpy one. In the winter of 1729-1730 at the age of around twenty-four, Daði was attending school at Skálholt; a school to educate the clergy so that he could attain a position as a priest. However Daði was expelled from the school for violence against another student by the name of Eirik Guðmundsson.
Daði eventually gained his qualification and was given permission to preach by the Bishop Jón Árnason. Sadly this was not the end of his troubles.
It was custom for a priest who had attained his licence by the Bishop and completed his studies to return to his home and keep working alongside his family until a permanent position at a parish became available. When Daði had completed his studies, he found work at sea at Höfnum and was also required to perform the duties of priest, though this was not his permanent parish. On one occasion he stood at the altar at Kirkjuvogs Church and it was said that he did not appear to have his senses entirely with him as he preached to the local community and what was worse, this news traveled to the bishop. The bishop wrote a letter to Daði and commented about this incident reflecting that it was not likely Daði was suited to the role of priest as someone who sought alcohol at any opportunity it was presented. It became difficult for Daði to gain a permanent parish, but he did receive some interest in a parish called Keldnaþing in March 1736 at the age of thirty but nothing came of it and he turned his attention to farming.
Daði became a farmer first at Árbæ in Rangárvöllum and then at Lambafell under the mountain of Eyjafjall but he is noted in a couple of sources as not being a successful farmer. Finally he received a parish at Stóradal and was ordained as priest there on the
18th of May 1750 at the age of forty-five. After six years at this parish he was transferred to the Reynisþingum parish in Mýrdal on the south central coast and he held that parish up until his death at the age of seventy-three. It was said that for the last seven to eight years of his service he was completely blind and relied solely on his assistant priests.
Daði lived through the violent eruption of the volcano Katla in 1755, one of the largest and dubbed “angriest” volcanoes in Iceland. It sits under Mýrdalsjökull Glacier north of the town of Vík in Mýrdal.
The eruption is said to have lasted 120 days and would have resulted in large scale glacial flooding. It is said that people were often scared of crossing the plains in front of the volcano because of the frequent glacial bursts and deep glacial river crossings. The flood waters went mostly west of Hafursey, north of the outwashed black sands of Myrdalssandur. Two men died due to lightning strikes and about fifty farms where abandoned temporarily.
In 1760 Daði was in charge of the whole of the Mýrdal region. There were two parishes in Mýrdal. These were known as Reynisþing which had churches at Höfðabrekku and Reyni and Sólheimaþing with churches at Dyrhólum and Sólheimum Ytri. This meant Daði would have serviced four churches. Travel between parishes was often by horse, over rough landscape and in all kinds of weather, but it is said that Reverend Daði had some help from an assistant priest. Daði was described as being short and obese, weighing in at about 120 kilograms and unlikely to have coped well with the travel between churches. I had wondered if it was a common occurrence for priests to have assistants. I found a book called “Travels in Iceland” written by Scottish explorer Sir George Steuart MacKenzie in the early 19th Century which discusses this ; “The duty of each parish devolves upon a single priest; with the permission, however, if his own circumstances do not allow the full discharge of his duties, to take an assistant from among the young men educated for the church who have not yet obtained a permanent position in life.”
Daði’s duties as priest for the community would have included christenings, marriage and death services as well as regular Sabbath (Sunday) church services and holy occasions. An ordinary service of the church consisted of prayer, psalms, a sermon and readings from the Scriptures and it is known that the prayers and readings were chanted rather than spoken by the priest. Sir George Steuart Mackenzie, again noted a typical Sabbath at an Icelandic church in his book “Travels in Iceland”:
“A group of male and female peasants may be seen gathered about the church waiting the arrival of their pastor, all habited in their best attire, after the manner of the country; their children with them, and the horses which brought them from their respective homes grazing quietly around the little assembly. The arrival of a new-comer is welcomed by everyone with a kiss of salutation; and the pleasures of social intercourse, so rarely enjoyed by the Icelanders, are happily connected with the occasion which summons them to the discharge of their religious duties. The priest makes his appearance among them as a friend: he salutes individually each member of his flock, and stoops down to give his almost parental kiss to the little ones, who are to grow up under his pastoral care.”
The common priest was not wealthy. Like his friend Jón wrote in his memoirs, Daði was not a prosperous man. He would have been required to farm alongside his clerical duties, to provide a living for his family and it was known that priests often lived in little better conditions than that of their parishioners as stated in the book “Travels in Iceland” by Sir George Stueart Mackenzie, ‘Their habitations are constructed merely of wood and turf like those of the farmers of the country and are equally destitute of all internal comforts. A stove, or place for containing fire, is scarcely ever to be found in them. Often there is only one apartment in the house to which the light of the sun has free access, or where there is any flooring but the naked earth; and the furniture of this room seldom comprehends more than a bed, a broken table, one or two chairs and a few boxes in which the clothes of the family are preserved. Such is the situation during life of the Icelandic priests and amidst all this wretchedness and these privations, genius learning and moral excellence are but too frequently entombed. “
Daði married twice. At the age of twenty-five he married his first wife Þóra Gottskálksdóttir. They had four children together: Árni 1732, Ástríður Þorbjörg 1734-1796, Elín 1735-1738, and Gottskálk 1737-1774. He lost his wife and daughter Elín in 1738. There may have been some sort of illness that took his wife and daughter from him at the same time.
In 1740, thirty-four year old Daði married his second wife Sólveig Grímsdóttir who was eleven years younger than him. They had seven children together. They were: Daði 1740, Jón 1741-1741, twins Guðni 1742-1808 and Þóra 1742-1808, Guðmundur 1743-1780, Þorbjörg 1748-1815, Grímur 1750-after 1762. It is interesting to find here that Daði and Sólveig had fraternal twins Guðni and Þóra. The twin gene does appear to be strong on my mother’s paternal side who is descended from Daði and Sólveig’s twin son Guðni. Other twins have shown up in their descendants, including recently that of both of my sisters, who gave birth to naturally conceived twins within 10 weeks of each other.
Solveig came from a respectable family. Perhaps Daði’s position as priest bought him a respectable wife. Her father was Grímur Jónsson, a sheriff at Brekku in Holtamannhrepp in his younger years and later a district counselor for Rangárvallahrepp. Solveig is believed to have died sometime after 1762.
Daði, a man of god, who enjoyed life with song and poetry and perhaps too much of “the drink” died on the 1st of September 1779 at the age of 73. He was the first priest buried at Reyniskirkja. His good friend Reverand Jón Steingrímsson mentions Daði and the last time he saw him in his memoirs “Æfisaga”
“The old blind priest at Heiði feels his death drawing ever closer,, said he knew precisely when he would die, asked me to bury him and perform the burial service. He let me assist him blindly outside, where we parted; blessed one another, and he sang my departure from his house with this verse: (written in Icelandic)
Af himna hæðum
hjálpræðis renni sól
Gúð sé þitt hlífðar skjól. etc.,
which he sang with a rich voice. That was the last time Reverend Jón was fare-welled upon departure from the house, this simple custom no longer practised.”
Bárðarson, Hjálmar R., Ísland Svipur lands og Þjóðar, Reykjavík, 1982
Hjálmarsson, Jón R., History of Iceland: From the Settlement to the Present Day, Iceland Review, Reykjavik, 1993
Mackenzie, Sir George Stueart, Travels in Iceland , William and Robert Chambers, Edingurgh, 1842
Steingrímsson, Jón, Æfisaga: Jóns Prófasts Steingrímssonar, Sögufélag, 1913. *Accessed through the website Bækur.is: http://baekur.is/is/bok/000209172/0/443/AEfisaga_Jons_profasts
Landsbókasafn Íslands, Map 59. Dyrhólaey, Danmörk, 1936, http://www.islandskort.is,
Wikipedia: Katla_Volcano, viewed 10 Sept 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katla_(volcano)
Wikipedia: Skálholt, viewed 10 Sept 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skálholt
Wikiwand, Reynir í Mýrdal, Viewed 10 Sept 2017, http://www.wikiwand.com/is/Reynir_í_Mýrdal
Frímann, J. 3 April 2011, A short history of volcano eruptions in Iceland, viewed 10 Sept 2017, http://www.jonfr.com/volcano/?p=765