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Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir with Snorri

Ásmundur Sveinsson
2000 ?

Glaumbær /  Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir with Snorri


Small statue of Guðríður, carrying Snorri on her shoulder, in a boat.


Glaumbær is the place, where Þorfinnur Karlsefni settled with his wife Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, and their son Snorri Þorfinnsson (the first European child born in North America) after they returned from their stay in America. Snorri became the founder of an illustrious family in Iceland, which gave that island several of its first Bishops. His daughter's son was the celebrated Bishop Thorlak Runólfson, who published the first Christian Code of Iceland. Also the celebrated Danish sculptor, Thorvaldsen, was a descendant of Snorri.
In the graveyard of Glaumbær is a statue of Guðríður and Snorri. Other copies of this statue are in Laugarbrekka and Ottawa.


Legend that begins in Newfoundland ends with a 'fantasy' discovery in field

By Alana Mitchell, Earth Sciences Reporter

Saturday, November 30, 2002 - Page A3

GLAUMBAER, ICELAND -- Here on this remote northern edge of Iceland, buried under a thousand years of volcanic ash and drifting soil, the second half of one of Canada's most ancient human mysteries finally is being dug up.

It is, they say, the home of Snorri Thorfinnson, famed in Viking lore as the first European born in the New World and a key family member in Eric the Red's legendary clan.

Thorfinnson's birthplace is thought to be in Newfoundland, at l'Anse aux Meadows. Discovered 40 years ago, it has been made a United Nations World Heritage Site and is considered one of the world's major archeological finds.

Besides being the only authenticated settlement of Norse Vikings in North America, l'Anse aux Meadows is the earliest mark of the sweeping role Europeans were fated to play on the North American stage.

But the question always has been: Where did Thorfinnson go from there?

The answer, it seems, is right here, to this farmer's field in Glaumbaer. At the moment, a few dozen of Iceland's shaggy sheep are grazing over what would have been Thorfinnson's sleeping quarters.

The find has reverberated through this island of 280,000, where the story of Thorfinnson and his much-travelled mother, Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir, has the potency of a holy story.

"The last year has been trying to believe it's not just a fantasy," said Sigridur Sigurdardottir, an ethnographer who is head of the Glaumbaer Folk Museum and has watched the house unearthed before her eyes.

"It's just there, waiting."

The search for Thorfinnson's house began about three centuries ago with the publication of the medieval manuscripts that contain the magnificent Icelandic sagas, which describe in bloodthirsty detail the epic adventures of about 40 families.

Two stories, the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, tell the tale of Thorfinnson and Thorbjarnardottir.

It goes like this: A long time ago, before the year 1000, the beautiful Thorbjarnardottir married the rich eldest son of Eric the Red, after Eric fled from Iceland to settle in Greenland as an outlaw. Her imagination was fired by the tales of Eric's second son, Leif Ericson, who had just discovered the New World and had come back to Greenland to tell about it. Thorbjarnardottir longed to see the new land, but her husband died before they could get there.

But then Thorbjarnardottir, the wealthy and beautiful young widow, met Thorfinnur Karlsefni, the best sailor of the day and with royal blood in his veins. Like her, he had wanderlust. They married and set off across the ocean, found the houses Leif Ericson had built and explored much further up and down the Vineland coast.

Eventually, they settled in what is now Newfoundland, gave birth to Snorri Thorfinnson and stayed for about three years. When it was time to leave, they loaded up their Viking ships with many goods from the New World, sailed to Norway and sold the exotic materials for a fortune.

Then they took Thorfinnson back to Iceland, where Karlsefni stood to inherit one of the richest farms in the land. But Karlsefni's mother took a rooted dislike to Thorbjarnardottir for her low birth, so the couple bought a large farm at Glaumbaer and settled there in about 1000.

For centuries, the tale has baffled Icelandic scholars because a large turf house still stands at Glaumbaer, but it was built after 1104. Where is Thorfinnson's house? Could it be under the turf house there now? Difficult to tell. Built of organic material, turf houses are tough to find. Worse still, Icelanders left no pottery because the island's soil has no clay content.

Enter John Steinberg, an archeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, who is fascinated with the sagas and with Icelanders. He reasoned that if he sent an alternating electrical current through a field, he could discover whether the field was likely to contain an ancient Icelandic house.

He did that in the hayfield at Glaumbaer, and, mirabile dictu, a perfectly preserved turf long house appeared that seems to draw a straight line from Newfoundland to Iceland. "I'm almost sure this is the house," Dr. Steinberg said. "It's a real opportunity to put these sagas in context."

The house buried deep under here was 29 metres long, with a floor of tramped clay and peat ash 15 centimetres deep, Ms. Sigurdardottir said.

The turf walls, cut in perfect pieces from the peaty riverbed nearby, were 1.8 metres thick. Ms. Sigurdardottir pointed to another part of the hayfield. Underneath is a smithy where the Icelanders made bog iron. Ancient tools and a stable have been found.

Some of the structure was built before 1000, and was added to and renovated twice. They found part of a calf's jaw from about 1018. But by 1104, the place had been abandoned, never to be lived in again, for reasons that remain a mystery. Dr. Steinberg knows this because it is covered with fine ash from the Hekla volcano that erupted that year.

There are some hitches to this archeological find, as Dr. Steinberg and Ms. Sigurdardottir make haste to point out. The key one is whether the sagas tell the truth or fiction. Did Snorri Thorfinnson really exist? It's hard to say. All anyone knows for sure is that some Vikings landed in Newfoundland in around 1000; some wealthy Icelanders lived in Glaumbaer around the same time, and Icelanders believe the sagas are true.

There is one more clue. Up on the hill behind this archeological site is a church dated to 1030. A statue of Thorbjarnardottir and Thorfinnson stands in the graveyard, an Icelandic token of faith in the truth of the sagas. Mother and son look straight toward Newfoundland.

The saga says that Thorbjarnardottir didn't stop her journeys when she returned to Iceland. After Thorfinnson's father died, she travelled from Glaumbaer to Rome, mostly on foot, seeking absolution from the Pope. She vowed that when she got back, she would build the first church in this part of Iceland. When she got back, it is said, this church was already standing, a tribute from Thorfinnson to the wayfaring mother who had given birth to him in the New World.


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Item Code: is004; Added: 14 August 2004

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