KIRKJUBÆJARKLAUSTUR – a tongue-twisting name that even locals often abbreviate to “Klaustur” – is only a single street, Klausturvegur, which stretches 500m west from a highway roundabout. However, as it’s the sole settlement of any size in the 200km between Höfn and Vík, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll stop here. There’s little to see, however, and the village is best used as a base from which to launch an assault on nearby attractions. It sits at the foot of an escarpment on the Skaftá, whose circuitous path originates on the western side of Vatnajökull, and is flanked by lavafields from eruptions by Lakagígar in 1783, centred some 75km to the northwest.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur’s modern church is sided in granite slabs and has an unusual facade resembling a ski lodge. The village has had religious associations since Irish monks set up camp here before the Settlement; a Benedictine convent was later established in 1186, though two of its nuns had the misfortune to be burned at the stake for heresy. But it was during the Lakagígar eruptions that the church here achieved national fame: as lava flows edged into the town, the pastor, Jón Steingrímsson, delivered what became known as the “Fire Sermon”, and the lava halted. It’s possible to climb the escarpment behind the church by means of a chain, and from the top there’s a fine view of the diverted flow, and also of Landbrot, a collection of a thousand-odd pseudocraters formed during another eruption in 950.