Is the cloister door found?

Archaeologist Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir has for years researched the cloisters of ...

Archaeologist Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir has for years researched the cloisters of medieval times in Iceland. mbl.is/Árni Sæberg

"Important evidences point to that the church door of Valþjófsstaðir "Valþjófsstaðarhurðin" originally came from a cloister that chieftain Jón Loftsson founded at Keldur, Rangárvellir in the in year 1193," Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir archaeologist says about her new book that has been just published by The Historical Society and The National Museum of Iceland. The book's title is: In Search of the Cloisters - Five centuries of Cloister Life in Iceland, and it is the result of many years of research by Kristjánsdóttir and her collaborators on all the cloisters that were kept during medieval times in Iceland. 

New theory of the origin

The door of Valþjófsstaðir is one of Icelanders' most remarkable ancient relic, and scientists have for long pondered it's origin. Today it is considered certain that the door was made and carved around the year 1200. Earlier it was thought to be the work of Loftsson's great-granddaughter Randalín Filippusdóttir, but she was born later.

The cloister at Keldur is not considered to be one of the important Icelandic cloisters and it was only operated from the year 1193 to 1222. It was founded by Jón Loftsson, one of the biggest chieftains of his time, and a descendant of the king of Norway. The cloister was founded against the will of the Church of Rome, but Loftsson fought that establishment frequently. He objected the claim that church sites should belong to the Catholic Church and not to the chieftains that built them, and got therefore banned by the bishop of Iceland.   

The abandonment of the cloister

When Jón died in 1197, his son Sæmundur took over the cloister. When Sæmundur died in 1122 the cloister was deserted and Loftson's grandsons tore down the cloister and kept the precious wood it was constructed with. Most likely Filippus, Randalín's father, kept the door and gave it to his daughter when she got married and moved to Valþjófsstaðir in the year 1249, and she had it hung in the church.

Kristjánsdóttir says that more things link the door to chieftain Loftsson, amongst those are Loftsson's story and family background. The imagery carved on the door is possibly a reference to him; a knights saving a lion from the claws of a dragon, which is an image well known from European stories of lion knights. "Most likely it is not a coincidence that the this decoration was chosen for the door. It can both be a reference to Loftsson himself or his grandfather Magnus, King of Norway," Kristjánsdóttir says, and points out that the Coat of Arms of Magnus had a lion on it, and that it was very common for mighty men to have their story carved into wood or stone.

History revealed

Kristjánsdóttir says she could never have imagined that the search for the cloister at Keldur would lead her all the way to Valþjófsstaður and to the famous door that is named by the place. "There have been many theories about the cloister at Keldur and some have stated that it was never even built. Evidences show otherwise. Tales of the precious wood, the imagery on the door, and the connection of Randalín, Loftsson's granddaughter, to Valþjófsstaður have convinced me that the door to the cloister has been found."

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