Brigham Young University

The first Icelandic converts, Thorarinn Haflidasson Thorason and Gudmund Gudmundson, were baptized in Denmark in 1851 under the direction of Erastus Snow, an apostle and the president of the Scandinavian Mission. They were then set apart as missionaries to Iceland. Benedikt Hanson, his wife, and several others were soon baptized. The first branch was organized 19 June 1853 by Johan P. Lorentzen, an elder sent from Denmark. Gudmund Gudmundson was the branch president.

The first Icelandic pioneers to Utah were Samuel Bjarnson, his wife, Margaret, and Helga Jonsdottir. They arrived September 1855 and were sent by Brigham Young to Spanish Fork, where most Icelandic converts settled.

In 1873 Elders Magnus Bjarnasson and Loftur Jonsson reorganized a branch in Iceland. Many of the converts were from the Westmann Islands. Eventually, most of the members emigrated to America.

An Icelandic mission existed from 1894 to 1900. Missionary work there was discontinued in 1914. In 1975, Byron and Melba Geslison and their twin sons, David and Daniel, reopened the work under the Danish Mission. A branch with more than 40 members was established 8 August 1976 in Reykjavik. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin dedicated the land for missionary work 18 September 1977. The Book of Mormon was translated into Icelandic and published in 1980. Branches of the Church were subsequently established in Keflavik and Akureryi. At the beginning of the year 2000 there were 248 members of the Church living in one district with two branches.

Spanish Fork is the oldest settlement of Icelanders in America, and Utah has the second largest population of Icelandic descendants outside of Iceland. The first visit to Utah by an Icelandic president was in 1997 when Olafur Ragnar Grimsson participated in the annual Iceland Day celebration sponsored by the Icelandic Association of Utah.

[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 296,000; Members, 225; Branches, 2; Districts, 1; Percent LDS, .09, or one in 1,146; Europe Central Area; Denmark Copenhagen Mission; Source 2007 Church Almanac.]

SOURCES

Geslison, Byron T. “The Icelandic Settlement in Utah.” Submitted to the Utah State Historical Society, 16 August 1992.

Harris, Tod. “Gospel Touches Remote Iceland.” Church News, 6 August 1994, 6, 12.

1999-2000 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1998. 334-35.

CLARK T. THORSTENSON

From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 532-33. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.