Eric the Red - George Upton

Columbus' Interview With Bishop Magnus in 1477

In the Icelandic archives we find authentic statements which indicate that Columbus, in February, 1477, sailed from England upon a Bristol merchant vessel and reached the harbor of Hvalfjardareyr, in the southern part of Iceland. This harbor was frequently visited at that time by merchant vessels, especially from England and Ireland. Columbus himself says that in the year named, the ocean in the vicinity of a great island near England was entirely free of ice. Voyages to Iceland at this season were not uncommon but the entire absence of snow was very rare. But public documents show that this was the case in the months of February and March of that year. This fortunate event proved the opportunity for a memorable interview.

At this time one of the most conspicuous clericals of Iceland was the Benedictine, Magnus, son of Egolv, who was appointed to the abbacy of the monastery of Helgafellen. In relation to the earliest voyages of discovery from Iceland to America, Helgafellen may be called classic ground, for it was from that spot the first discoverers and settlers of Greenland and other parts of America set out. There dwelt Kjartan, the son of Biorn Asbrandson, whom Gudliev Gudloegson found in Grossirland. There also the costly gifts are preserved which Biorn sent by Gudliev to Kjartan and Thurida in Grossirland.

In 1475 Magnus, abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Helgafellen, was consecrated by Archbishop Gauto of Drontheim as Bishop of Skalholt. In the Winter of 1477 it happened that Bishop Magnus was visiting the church of his diocese at Hvalfjardareyr when Columbus arrived there. He met Columbus and they conversed in Latin. Columbus inquired about the western regions, according to Professor Rafn, in the preface to his "American Antiquities," but what information he received or what reply the bishop made still remain a question, for the authentic writings make no mention of it. But it is entirely reasonable that the bishop told Columbus of the well-known discoveries of western countries made by Icelanders, for he had ample information concerning them, derived partly from the history of his fatherland and partly from the chronicles of the monastery of which he was abbot. It would be superfluous, however, to show that the knowledge of these western countries and of America was limited to Iceland. An unnamed historian, describing the crusade of the Danes to the Holy Land in 1185, states, in speaking of the city of Bergen, that merchant vessels sailed from there to Iceland, Greenland, England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Gothland.