Saga Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland

Nothing to do with the grey pound, Reykjavík’s Saga Museum is an odd place, housed inside a disused hot water tank at Perlan (The Perl). Here Iceland’s oral history is brought to life with silicon figures clothed in dress made by traditional methods. Icelanders are very proud of the Saga Museum and the how it was made section takes as much time as the main exhibit.

Technically it’s all very good and the guy on the ticket desk seemed to know all the models: ‘that’s my sister,’ he said pointing to the pregnant lady threatening to cut her left breast off with a sword (a stunt that apparently freaked out some native Americans).

The problem is that it that the Saga Museum is really just a collection of mostly violent and sometimes bizarre anecdotes. The guide says it’s in chronological order, but there’s no real sense of time and it all could have happened in the same year. Perhaps Iceland simply doesn’t have much human history.

One story concerns a blacksmith who was follically challenged and so gained the nickname ‘Baldy’. He was admired for being as strong as four men, but very unpopular. His son was just like his father and similarly disliked; he had a nasty habit of killing people by smashing their skulls with something resembling a hockey stick.

The conversion to Christianity was cool. An elder went to his hut, got into bed and pulled several animal skins over himself. He stayed there for several days. When he emerged, he suggested that if anyone ask Icelanders should say they were Christian, but they should continue to worship the old gods, if they liked, in private. Everyone else thought this a great idea and so overnight Iceland became Christian and avoided much, but not all, of the need to burn people at the stake and such like that conversion to Christianity usually entailed.

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