Salmon rivers, women and an execution

Blönduós is the largest town in Húnavatnssýsla – Húnawaters County – in Iceland’s North-west with lakes and rivers all around the town of a thousand inhabitants. There and nearby you’ll find many of the best salmon and trout fishing lakes and rivers in Iceland.

The river Blanda – ‘The Mixed River’ – which runs through the town, is the longest and perhaps the most powerful salmon river in Iceland. The source of the river is the Hofsjökull glacier and it runs into Húnaflói Bay through Blönduós. There is found Hrútey – ‘Ram Island’ – with its natural wonders and walking paths.

Women, churches and monastery

Women certainly have a place of honor at Blönduós, with Iceland’s Women’s College located there for a century. So it comes as no surprise that Iceland’s textile and handcraft history is well documented throughout the centuries as well as the old College.

The quite extraordinary ‘Vatnsdæla á Refli’ project is the telling of the great Icelandic Saga of the People of Vatnsdalur through pictures embroidered on a tapestry. Work began on the tapestry in 2011, and it is expected to finish early next decade with the final length of the tapestry 46 meters! Women certainly have a place of Honour at Blönduós.

The Blönduós Church, consecrated in 1993, finds inspiration from the surrounding mountains. It is an elaborate house of God, like many of Húnavatnssýsla’s beautiful farm churches and the Þingeyri monastery.

Burial Rites: The story of Agnes

Then there is the story of Agnes and the last execution in Iceland, which the Australian Hannah Kent has so brilliantly documented in her gripping and epic award-winning novel Burial Rites. Oscar Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence plays Agnes in the upcoming Luca Guadagnino Hollywood film.

Riverbank of Blanda

Agnes Magnúsdóttir was beheaded along with Friðrik Sigurðsson after being found guilty of brutally murdering her lover, farmer Natan Ketilsson, who had rejected her, at Illugastaðir in Vatnsnes to the west of Blönduós. Afterwards, the farm was set on fire. For this, at the Þrístapar – ‘The Three Rocks’ – they were beheaded on 12th January 1830, and their heads put on vaults facing the passing road for all to see. Þrístapar is close to the main road running through Húnavatnssýsla. Passers-by still walk to the site in remembrance of Agnes.

Events at Illugastaðir shook Iceland at the time. Agnes (33) herself reported to a nearby farm that Illugastaðir was burning and that Natan had perished along with another man. When the fire had been extinguished, multiple stab-wounds were on the bodies and unburnt clothes. The men had been murdered. Natan had been an infamous womanizer and rejected Agnes for a 16-year-old girl whom he had taken away from her fiancé, young Friðrik Sigurðsson. Were jealousy and revenge the reason?

Agnes and Friðrik were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. As there were no prisons in Iceland at the time, Agnes was held for the winter awaiting her execution at a farm where she had lived as a young girl. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes during the winter preceding her death. “They said I must die. They said I stole the breath from the men, and now they must steal mine,” Agnes says in Burial Rites. As the days to the execution draw closer, it begs the question: did she or didn’t she?