S. Berliner, III's sbiii.com Icelandic Unitarian Page keywords = Iceland Icelandic Unitarian connection universal salvation Ingolfur Wayne Árnason Edith Björnsson Sunley Oláfur Magnús Eiríksson Stefán Guðmundsson Stephan Stephansson Barbara Jane Rohrke Valtýr Emil Matthías Jochumsson Jónasson Magnús Oláfur Jósefsson Magnús Skaptason Björn Petursson Vilhjálmur Stefánssonm Jennie McCain unitarianism universalist universalism

Updated:   17 Feb 2017; 16:30 ET
[Page created 22 Oct 2005; converted 14 Feb 2017
    original AT&T Worldnet Website begun 30 May 1996.]

URL:  http://sbiii.com/icelandu.html
[was at "home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/icelandu.html"]

S. Berliner, III
Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
"changing materials with high-intensity sound"

[consultation is on a fee basis]

Technical and Historical Writer, Oral Historian
Popularizer of Science and Technology
Rail, Auto, Air, Ordnance, and Model Enthusiast
Light-weight Linguist, Lay Minister, and Putative Philosopher

note - The vast bulk of my massive Web presence (over 485 pages) had been hosted by AT&T's WorldNet service since 30 May 1996; they dropped WorldNet effective 31 Mar 2010 and I have been scrambling to transfer everything.  Everything's saved but all the links have to be changed, mostly by hand.  See my sbiii.com Transfer Page for any updates on this tedious process.

S. Berliner, III's




  {Background - follows}
    The 1981 Minns Lectures.
    The Iron Fist of Church and State.
    "Golden Age" - 13th-15th Centuries.
    Magnus Eiriksson and Religious Liberalism.
    Matthías Jochumsson and the English Influence ca. 1878-1893.
    The American Radical - Stephan G. Stephansson.
    The Great Migration ca. 1880.
    Björn Pétursson - Unitarian Missionary! 1886-1893.
    Jennie Elizabeth McCain - Believer 1886 - 1888?.
    Rev. Magnus Skaptasson’s "Break-Away" Sermon - Gímli, 30 Mar 1891.
    Northward to Canada - New Iceland ca. 1895-1900.
    Winnipeg 1891.
    Westward to the Rockies and on to Puget Sound.
    Dissolution ca. WWII.
    Icelandic Alphabet.
    Icelandic Glossary.
        with Icelandic Patronymy.

S. Berliner, III's


note-rt.gif  This is NOT a work of original scholarship;
rather, it is a condensation and popularization of the book,
as published posthumously by his wife, Dr. Barbara Jane Rohrke Gudmundson
and G. Eric Bjornson.  Further, the Icelandic words and names are
Anglicized in the text, with an Icelandic pronouncing alphabet and
glossary following; Icelandic names were originally patronymic.


{This is a work in progress!}

Few enough people know that there is a significant Icelandic community on the North American mainland; even fewer know that there is a significant Icelandic Unitarian Universalist presencethere.  My own interest stems from my earliest childhood, when one of the very first adult books I read as a precocious youngster was Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s "An Arctic Adventure".  Shortly thereafter, I read Pierre Loti’s "An Icelandic Fisherman", one of the illustrations of which remains engraved in my mind; graphic nudity had not yet become old hat by any means.  As a young adult, I began attending the North Shore Unitarian Church in Plandome (Long Island, New York - now the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock) and met activist Edith Bjornsson Sunley and first learned of the Icelandic Unitarian connection.  More recently, at GA after GA (the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association), one of the most visible and popular officials is always the Rev. Wayne B. Arnason, reporter of the daily number of attendees and a minister of the West Shore UU Church in Cleveland (and past president of the Unitarian Ministers Association).  Less visible but always serving the UUA is the Rev. Stéfan M. Jonasson, originally as archivist and chaplain at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Winnipeg and now as UUA Coordinator of Services for Large Congregations; Stéfan is also a minister at the old Icelandic churches at Gimli and Aarborg.  These folks are all children and grand-children of the original hardy band that ventured from Iceland just before the end of the 19th Century to settle in the upper midwest of the United States and then branched out into south-central Canada and then to the east slope of the Canadian Rockies and on to the Seattle-Vancouver area.  So, let us commence tracing that epic journey, courtesy of the late Emil Gudmundson.

First, though, we should note that the theology developed by the Icelandic Unitarians was far closer to Universalism than to the Unitarianism of the day but it was the American Unitarian Association (AUA) that underwrote the mission that facilitated their conversion and with which they affiliated.

[Approximate dates given for reference in the general format which follows
are to set the scene; they are NOT birth or death dates.]

The 1981 Minns Lectures


The scholarship that resulted in his wife publishing his book after his untimely death was first brought to public light in a series of six lectures given under the auspices of the Minns Lectures, the result of a 1938 bequest to First Church in Boston and jointly administered by First Church and Kings Chapel.  Originally restricted to Boston, the lectures’ scope broadened ca. 1975 to allow more than one per year and presentation across the continent.  For 1981, Emil Gudmundson was selected to present and he delivered five lectures at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg and one in the heart of New Iceland at Aarborg, Manitoba.  Earlier, Emil Gudmundson had given two seminal papers that were known primarily only to Unitarian Universalist scholars; "I was Born a Prairie Unitarian", given at the Western District Canadian Unitarian Conference Annual Meeting in September 1975, and "American Influences on The Beginnings of Unitarianism Among Icelanders in The United States and Canada", presented at Collegium 1979 at Craigville, Massachusetts.  The Minns lectures and the two papers are part and parcel of the book and are all incorporated herein.

The Iron Fist of Church and State

In the late 19th Century, Denmark ruled Iceland and the state church was Lutheran, with a rigid orthodoxy and absolute tenet of eternal damnation.  Neither stricture sat well with younger intellectual Icelandic firebrands, descendants of Norsemen, the Vikings, who settled from Norway under Ingolfur Arnason in 874 AD at what is now Reykjavik (actually, seafarers had visited as early as the 4th Century AD and Irish hermits had settled in the 9th Century but left when the Norsemen arrived; Greenland was settled from Iceland ca. 990 AD).

"Golden Age" - 13th-15th Centuries


Magnus Eiriksson and Religious Liberalism - ca. 1844-Aug 1874
    (independence - 1863)

Magnus Eiriksson (approx. 1876)

Magnús Eiríksson (22 Jun 1806 - 03 Jul 1881) was an Icelandic theologian and a contemporary critic of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard; due to his very critical attitude towards church dogma, especially the dogmas of the Trinity of God and the Divinity of Christ, in contrast to which he stressed (at least in his late work) the essential unity of God and the leadership of Jesus (merely) as prophet and teacher, Eiríksson often was labeled as a "pioneer" or "precursor" to the Unitarian movement in Denmark (after Wikipedia).

Matthías Jochumsson and the English Influence - ca. 1878-1893

Matthias Jochumsson

Matthías Jochumsson (11 Nov 1835 - 18 Nov 1920) was an Icelandic poet, playwright, and translator, best known for lyrical poetry and for writing the national anthem of Iceland, "Lofsöngur", in 1874 (after Wikipedia).

The American Radical - Stephan G. Stephansson - ca. 1880-1927

Rev. Stephan G. Stephansson

Stephan G. Stephansson (03 Oct 1853 - 10 Aug 1927) was a Western Icelander, poet, and farmer. born in Skagafjörður, but emigrated to Wisconsinin 1873, and then to Markerville, Alberta, Canada.  Self-educated, he was influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson; they shared many beliefs, including equal rights for men and women.  Stephansson wrote only in Icelandic and had great influence in his home country; he did not see Iceland again until 1917, when he was 64 years old (after Wikipedia).

The Great Migration - ca. 1880

The Icelandic volcano, Hecla (Hekla), which erupts quite often, erupted violently in 1300, then to varying degrees in 1341, 1389, 1440, 1510, 1554, 1597, 1636, 1693, 1725, 1766-68, and yet again in 1845 and 1878; this latter major eruption may well have influenced the decision to emigrate.  Some of these eruptions lasted over a year and caused extensive mortality to local livestock.

Björn Pétursson - Unitarian Missionary! - 1886-1893

Björn Pétursson as a member of the Icelandic Alþing (parliament)

[Pétturson was the prime force behind the Unitarian congregations of the Icelandic great migration; he pretty-much single-handedly founded the Icelandic Unitarian communities with which this page is concerned - to be expanded.]

Jennie Elizabeth McCain - Believer - 1886-1888?

[Jennie was the "true believer" who worked at the AUA in Boston as secretary of the Post Office Mission, espoused Pétturson's cause, husbanded funding, and visited him in the mid-West; eventually she espoused Pétturson himself! - to be expanded.]

Rev. Magnus Skaptasson’s "Break-Away" Sermon -
    Gímli, 30 Mar 1891

Rev. Magnus Skaptasson

Bishop of Iceland Visiting Gimli (Aug 2015)

Per the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg, "freethinkers among the Lutheran Icelanders who immigrated to Manitoba after the 1865 eruption of Mount Hecla founded their church in 1891.  Its first minister was Bjorn Pétursson, energetically assisted by Jennie Elizabeth McCain, the Unitarian missionary in St. Paul, Minnesota. They married, and she succeeded him as minister in Winnipeg after his death.  During the Easter season of 1892, - - - Magnus Skaptasson, then a Lutheran circuit preacher, delivered his "Easter Sermon" to seven of the Interlake Lutheran churches - a Universalist sermon - attacking the idea of hell and proposing a more humane and more human approach to salvation.  Five of the churches converted to Unitarianism en masse."

Northward to Canada - New Iceland - ca. 1895-1900

Winnipeg - 1891

Westward to the Rockies and on to Puget Sound - 1928

    {specific topics to be detailed}

Stephan G. Stephansson
Sameining [union, integration, (re)unification]

Dissolution - ca. WWII



Icelandic Alphabet

[26 English letters plus 7 accented vowels, plus 3 more letters, eth (Ð/ð), thorn (Þ/þ),
  and the AE digraph (Æ/æ), which appear in other alphabets*]
                    1                   2                   3           3
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
  A Á B C D Ð E É F G H I Í J K L M N O Ó P Q R S T U Ú V W X Y Ý Z Þ Æ Ö
  a á b c d ð e é f g h i í j k l m n o ó p q r s t u ú v w x y ý z þ æ ö
* - which is odd since eth (Ð/ð) and thorn (Þ/þ) seem generally regarded as uniquely Icelandic.
  Á =      A0193 - á = A160/A0225 - "ow" as in "how"
  Ð =      A0208 - ð =      A240  - Eth - "th" as in "rather"
  É = A144/A0201 - é = A130/A0233 - "ye" as in "yellow"
  Í =      A0205 - í = A161/A0237 - "ee" as in "meet"
  Ó =      A0211 - ó = A162/A0243 - long "o" as in "hope"
  Ý =      A0221 - ý =      A0253 - similar to "i"
  Ú =      A0218 - ú = A163/A0250 - "ou" as in "you"
  Þ =      A0222 - þ =      A0254 - Thorn - "th" as in "thorn"
  Æ = A146/A0198 - æ = A145/A0230 - AE digraph - long "i" as in "side"
  Ö = A153/A0214 - ö = A148/A0246 - "u" as in "utter"

Icelandic Glossary


Ingolfur{?} Árnason
Wayne Árnason
Edith Björnsson (Sunley)
Oláfur Björnsson
Magnús Eiríksson
Stefán Guðmundsson (Stephan G. Stephansson - see Patronymy, below)
Valtýr Emil Gudmundson
Matthías Jochumsson
Stefan M. Jónasson
Magnús Oláfur Jósefsson (Magnús J. Skaptason)
Björn Pétursson
Magnús J. Skaptason (b. Magnús Oláfur Jósefsson)
Vilhjálmur Stefánsson


Bjarkastaðir (Hnausa)
Hekla (Hecla) volcano
Lögberg (Law Rock) - a rocky outcrop at Þingvellir in southwest Iceland, the original location of the Alþing (parliament).




Dagsbrún (The Dawn)
Ó Gud vors Lands (Our Nation’s God), Icelandic National Anthem.

    Icelandic Patronymy

{see * on p. 23}

At the time of the migration to the North American mainland, Icelanders followed the old Norse patronymic tradition.  Thus, the son of Bjorn Petursson was Olafur Bjornsson (Bjorn’s son), Vilhjalmur Stefansson was Vilhjalmur, the son of Stephen, and famed Icelandic author Kristin Lavransdottir was Kristin, the daughter of Lawrence.  After emigrating, most in the U. S. and New Iceland changed to the English system of holding family names such that Olafur Bjornsson’s daughter was Edith Bjornson.  Magnús J. Skaptason had been born Magnús Oláfur Jósefsson (son of Jósef).  Perhaps the most dramatic public name change may well have been that of the writer, Stephan G. Stephansson, who had been born Stefán Guðmundsson; he was thus Stephan, son of Gudmundur, who, in turn, was the son of Stephan.

{I still must sort out the old Icelandic accenting vs. Anglicization}

Placing this incomplete work out on the Internet prematurely is a deliberate act of bravado on my part;
if anyone notices it and has any information to add, please contact me.


{This is a work in progress!}


  What happens to all this when I DIE or (heaven forfend!) lose interest?  See LEGACY.


See Copyright Notice on primary home page.

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