Akureyri - Danish on Sundays

Did people in Akureyri speak Danish on Sundays? Listen to a story from Tryggvi Gíslason, the former headmaster of Akureyri Junior College. He has lived in Akureyri for many years and knows plenty of interesting stories.

In the player below you can listen to the story as well as it is available in writing further down the page.
The story is read by Vilhjálmur Bermann Bragason.


"Akureyri has sometimes been called “The Danish Town.” Its first inhabitants were Danish merchants who resided in the “old” part of Akureyri during the winter, according to history, for the first time in 1718–1719. In Akureyri there was no population center as such until the mid-18th century, or until Danish authorities commanded in 1777 that merchants should stay the winter. Remains of the town’s Danish heritage can still be seen in many places in Akureyri, mainly in the names of house. Another influence on town life was the Danish slang which supposedly was more common in Akureyri than elsewhere. According to hearsay, the locals spoke Danish amongst themselves on Sundays, which outsiders thought was quite funny. But there might be a logical explanation for this practice.

When Akureyri first became populated, there was no church in town, as few people lived there apart from the Danish merchants. The parish church was in Hrafnagil some 20 km away and the locals went there for church services, everyone except for the Danish merchants. Around 1850, the townspeople requested to have their own church built as an annex from Hrafnagil. Their request was originally turned down. Then, by royal decree on 18 May, 1851, the people of Akureyri and the surrounding countryside were given permission to build a church in Akureyri at their own expense. For various reasons, construction didn’t begin until 1861 and the new church was completed in 1863. The new church only had one entrance, as was the case with most Icelandic churches at that time. Danish upper class women went to see Reverend Daníel Halldórsson in Hrafnagil and asked him to make sure that the church be fitted with a second entrance so that the dignified merchant families would not have to enter by the same door as the common people. As the story goes, the pastor responded that he had never heard that there were two entrances to Heaven and that was the end of that.

Stories started circulating of services that were given by Danish merchants in Akureyri, both before and after the church was built, because the Danish ladies were unwilling to enter by the same door as the commoners. During these services, Danish was spoken, Bible readings were in Danish and psalms were sung in Danish, naturally, as that was the merchant families’ native language. The Icelanders became aware of this because most of the servants were local, mainly from the farms around Akureyri. They heard that Danish was spoken during these Sunday services and began spreading the word in the surrounding countryside that Akureyri residents spoke Danish on Sundays – which was absolutely true. On weekdays, the merchants tried to speak Icelandic with the locals with varying success."