Iomramh 2011.

Seljaland caves, Iceland.

Video - Jonathon on the Seljaland Caves

Video - Overview of Seljaland caves

Video - Halfdan's pronounciation of Papahetlich

Photos - Seljaland

We were joined for the day by Gisli Oskarsson, the cameraman/historian. While waiting for the 11.30am ferry to the mainland we met Liam O’Muirthile who is joining the crew, having flown from Dublin to Reykjavik.

At the mainland terminal we were met by Halfdan Omar Halfdanarson, the owner of the land on which the caves are situated and a colleague of his who drove us to the farm/site. This had all been arranged in advance by Gunnthor and Kristjan Ahronson. Kristjan is the archaeologist who has done some excavation in the area of the caves and published a paper on them, unfortunately we didn't get to meet him.

According to Halfdan this site is called Papa Hetlich – the Papa of the cave/caves? [Correction: Halfdan informs me, 8th January 2012, that  the correct name is "Papahellir" (or "Seljalandshellar"). Papahellir means: the cave of Papar.]

The caves appear to be a natural, volcanic feature, with a natural dome, such that it might once have been a vent for a volcano, in a different geological age. It has been adapted internally to create an entrance porch with holy water font and a main oratory. The oratory is decorated with many splayed terminal crosses, as well as other graffiti.

 It seems likely that the front of the main chamber had been walled off so that it could only be entered from the small porch ?

Danny did some reading from Gunnthor’s prayerbook as well as prayers in Irish for the camera. Jonathon also did an interview with Gisli, giving his interpretation of the caves.

There was another more open area on the right of the ‘oratory’

And behind this (to the right) was a “Holy Well” with a constructed stone approach-path. This was strongly reminiscent of the ‘cleansing stream’ which Finnbjorn had shown us near the ‘Dimun’ site in Faroes

To the left of the ‘oratory’ on slightly higher ground were remains of at least three other structures. A rectangular enclosure of approximately 12’ square flanked on either side by sub-circular enclosures which might be interpreted as sleeping cells and refectory. Further left again and bounded by a stream was a partially circular sod wall, which might have been a boundary enclosure protecting a small garden from flooding.

There were some small mounds to the west of the stream.

There was a cliff at the rear of this complex and the view from the top was very striking.

We then went to another site where there was a cave about thirty feet deep, so that light did not penetrate to the back. On the back wall there was a very clear cross formed by discolouration of the ‘basalt’? This is in an area of natural caves and waterfalls and it is not clear how the cross was formed.

Haulfsdane, our host, very kindly provided us with a light lunch at his house and then, as we had a four hour wait for the return ferry they brought us to see some spectacular local waterfalls.

We then went about two miles from the original cave site to two small hills which had once been islands in the middle of a glacial river, they are now normally connected to the mainland by silting.  These islands are called STORA DÍMUN AND LITLA DÍMUN.

We returned to the Ferry terminal and there took our departure from Gunnthor and Jonathon, who are going to Reykjavik.

Back on the boat Liam had lunch waiting for us of beef, homemade cheese and breads which he brought from Dublin.

A few pints in the Volcano (pub!)and an early night.