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Faith in the Faroes

Faith in the Faroes

It is said that the Faroe Islands were first inhabited after year AD 600 by Irish monks who came to pray and live close to God in peace. Other sources suggest that the islands were inhabited long before that, and that the Christian Celtic faith was prominent on the islands for a long time, including after the landnam period around AD 800 when Norwegian emigrants and Vikings – probably along with Scots and Irishmen – settled here.

It is possible that both Vikings, with their belief in Norse gods, and people of other backgrounds, with their Christian Celtic faith, have lived and worked together on the islands during the Viking Age. The Celtic religion, with its distinctive features and values – such as tall crosses and a closeness to nature – later merged with the Catholic faith and, eventually, with the Protestant church.

According to Faroese history, the Faroe Islands was forcibly christened around AD 1000 as part of an agreement with Norwegian kings on taxes, shipment of goods and military power. Through Norway, the Faroes became part of the order and power of the medieval Catholic Church and subject to the Archbishop of Trondheim in Norway. The village of Kirkjubø became the bishop’s seat and head office of the diocese, and established a cathedral, an administration, taxation and a Latin school. The Catholic Church also gradually seized control of over half of the land in the Faroe Islands.

In 1539, the Protestant Reformation was carried out under the Danish King of the Faroes. Subsequently, the new Protestant Church became increasingly Danish, both in language and administration. The land owned by the Catholic Church was acquired by the Danish crown and became the so-called ‘Kings Land’. In 1948, after the Home Rule Act, the Faroese Parliament took over the land. To this day, half of all Faroese land – the former land of the Catholic Church – remains public land.

Today, the Faroese are predominantly Protestant. However, there has been one Catholic Church in Tórshavn, the capital, since 1932. Franciscan Sisters run a convent, school and kindergarten. Despite the Reformation, old Catholic traditions are still found in Faroese religious life. For example, certain churches and priests say Mass during service, and in daily life, it is common for parents or grandparents to make the sign of the cross over children before they leave the house.

Today, more than 80% of Faroese are members of the national church in the Faroes. The rest are, for the most part, members of other Christian congregations and independent churches.


• Sixty-two churches still stand in the Faroe Islands, as well as many chapels resembling churches.

• They are scattered around villages on sixteen of the country’s eighteen islands.

• Nearly every second village in the Faroes has managed to build its own church.

• The oldest churches are from a time when only a few thousand people lived in the Faroes. Even small villages with less than 100 inhabitants raised money to build a church.

• Considering the period and the local population when they were built, the churches are major architectural achievements – from the oldest wooden churches to the newer, specially built churches.

• Uncover unique architectural styles, exceptional handicraft, special furnishings, altar cloths, needlework and ornaments (with boats, ships and the sea as a recurring theme), organs, altarpieces and relics, each particular to the 62 churches. Church towers and church bells, each with unique inscriptions, are also to be found.

Nearly every second village in the Faroes has managed to build its own church.


According to legend, the church would protect against dangers, horrors, and the forces of nature. Tales of huldufólk (hidden people), giants, witches and the heathens tell stories of people who quarrelled with these supernatural creatures, and of how the creatures lost all power as soon as the village church tower came into sight.

In everyday life, sheep gathering, bird catching, as well as boats and equipment, were blessed with rituals, hymns and prayers. Sometimes, it was even believed that priests could call forth a pod of pilot whales to be slaughtered.

In many respects, the church and faith in God were a natural part of everyday life. For example, the rope used for catching cliff birds was commonly stored in the church attic or the church tower – such as in Funnings kirkja (see page 20).


The daily struggle for existence alongside the powerful forces of nature, especially the sea, is the primary theme found in artworks, crafts and ornaments in Faroese churches.

Nearly all Faroese churches have a vessel suspended from the ceiling for decorative and commemorative The altarpiece in Gjógv

reasons. Altarpieces and other decorations portray the ocean, boats and rough seas where humanity turns to God for help in the struggle with nature. For example, one of the miracles from the New Testament, where Jesus calms the sea and walks on water, is often depicted in a Faroese setting where Jesus calms the sea for Faroese boats and fishermen.

Cemeteries, memorial monuments and gravestones across the Faroes also tell the story of the many lost at sea, in the cliffs or other natural disasters.

In many places, memorial monuments have been erected near the churches to commemorate those lost at sea. 1 November – All Saints’ Day – is the official Commemoration Day for Persons Lost at Sea. On this day, services and memorial services are held across the country.

Also, more recent artwork and church decorations – for example, by Tróndur Patursson – are influenced by the struggle with powerful forces of nature and the richness of natural life.


In the Faroe Islands, funerals tend to gather large crowds. There is no crematorium in the Faroes, which means that the coffins are driven by car to the cemetery.

Usually, a funeral procession follows the car from the church to the cemetery, often located at some distance from the church. If you come across a funeral procession as you are driving in your car, it is custom and a sign of respect to stop the car, step outside, and wait in silence until the funeral procession has passed.


The footpaths between villages, ‘bygdagøtur’ meaning village paths, tell many stories of lives lived. The paths connect the villages with churches to villages without a church.

Before the introduction of roads, people regularly made the long journey along the village paths to attend church services. Children were carried to their baptism along the paths. In some villages, it was custom that the youngest godfather would run with the baptised baby along the footpath back home.

Mourners carried the coffins of loved ones along the heavy path for funeral service. On some village paths, a stone along the path where men used to rest the coffin are named after this – for example, ‘líksteinur’, meaning corpse stone.

Adolescents walked, excited and anxious, to their confirmations where they had to be examined before they could receive the priest’s hand on their heads.

Brides and grooms walked to their wedding ceremony – and returned home as husband and wife.

More information about hiking can be found at visitfaroeislands.com/hiking


To this day, the church plays an active role in life in the Faroes; it is our host in times of celebration and in times of sorrow.

The church has been the central gathering place of the villages and, in many ways, remains so today. The Faroese are undeniably very committed to their church.

In the 62 churches, there are 662 voluntary clerks (2021), led by democratically elected local church councils. In addition, there are at least 300-400 other volunteers that carry out various practical work. In other words, at least 1,800 people work, on a voluntary basis, in churches across the country (corresponding to at least 3.4% of the population). We are pretty sure that, globally speaking, this is quite unique!


Churches house our most joyous and sorrowful occasions. Be mindful and respect all private arrangements.

Please respect the holy places within and outside the church by: • always keeping your voice down • avoid using flash photography • never eat or drink inside a church

When going for a service please respect the churchgoers by: • always be seated for an entire service • be fairly well dressed

Churches are run by voluntary individuals. Donations are always highly appreciated and occasionally mandatory. We advise donating a minimum of DKK 20 for upkeep and maintenance of the churches.

Please do not attend private arrangements unless invited. You are welcome to join a regular service uninvited. This is an excellent way to experience Faroese culture, churches and Faroese singing.

The Sunday services last approximately an hour and are usually held at 11:00 or noon. Find more detailed information at the regional tourist information and on whatson.fo.