The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2022, 61-74

First Icelandic Nun Guðrún

E. V. Litovskikh

State Academic University of the Humanities


Financing: state assignment of the Ministry of Sciences and Higher Education of the Russian Federation: topic FZNF-2020-0001 “Traditions and values of society: mechanisms of formation and transformation in the context of global history” (at the State Academic University for the Humanities).


For citation: Litovskikh, Еlena V. First Icelandic Nun Guðrún // Drevneishie gosudarstva Vostochnoi Evropy (The Earliest States of Eastern Europe). 2022: The Role of Religion in the Formation of Socio-Cultural Practices and Ideas / Editors of the volume Е.V. Litovskikh, Е.А. Melnikova. Мoscow: GAUGN-Press, 2022. S. 61–74.


DOI: 10.32608/1560-1382-2022-43-61-74


AbstractGuðrún Ósvífrsdóttir (9731008), a representative of Icelandic clan nobility, is considered to be the first Icelandic woman to take monastic vows (she did this simultaneously with, or shortly after, the adoption of Christianity on the island in 1000), although there is no documentary evidence of this status, and it is mentioned in only one medieval narrative source, the Laxdæla saga. Almost nothing is known about her monastic activity. Guðrún is much more famous for her love affairs described in the same family saga and forming the basis of its plot. She is represented to have provoked a chain of events that resulted in the killing of Kjartán Ólafsson by his foster-brother, Bolli Þorleiksson. Guðrún’s behavior throughout her life, as it is described in the saga, is more consistent with stereotypical saga female images than those of a Christian. However, indirect information allows us to shed some light, at least partially, on the spiritual aspect of Guðrún’s life. It can be assumed with the highest degree of probability, that she did not take any hermit vows, but was an anchoress and lived until her death at her farm Helgafell, where one of the largest and most famous Icelandic churches of that period was erected through the joint efforts of Guðrún and her last husband Þorkell. Helgafell was a place where the first convent in Iceland was founded, and it later became one of the cultural and religious centers of the country.

Family sagas, monasticism, source criticism, Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir, Laxdæla saga, Helgafell


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