Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


Oldest Icelandic selfie on Facebook turns out to be six centuries old

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • Ari was here Skinnabók is the oldest of the Icelandic medieval archives which have been preserved, a collection of letters and documents from the Hóla bishopric in Northern Iceland. Photo/The Icelandic National Archives.

The oldest Icelandic selfie posted to Facebook has been found: Turns out it is nearly 600 years old.

Here is Ari - Ave Maria
Ari Þorbjarnarson, the Officialis of the bishop at the cathedral of Hólar in Northern Iceland, probably did not envision he was making history when he doodled his image into a manuscript. But thanks to the Icelandic National Archives, who published the photograph above of his drawing, Ari is now the earliest Icelander to have his selfie posted to Facebook.

The drawing, which is on a page of the archives of bishop John Craxton (1425-1435), has the words "Hér er Ari – Ave Maria", literally translated as "Here is Ari - Ave Maria" written next to it. Ari Þorbjarnarson was a high ranking church official, the bishop's judicial vicar, sharing his judicial power over the diocese. At some point Ari obviously got bored with important church business and decided to take a selfie, and with some 600 year lag, post it to Facebook!

A minor historical figure or a pioneer?
Sverrir Jakobsson, professor of Medieval History at the University of Iceland, tells us that very little is known about Ari, except that he appears frequently (in a official capacity) throughout the archives Skinnabók. Skinnabók, which contains letters and documents of several bishops of Hólar, is the oldest Icelandic archives which have been preserved.

Now, of course, Ari has secured a place in the annals of history, as a major trailblazer of Facebook-selfies in Iceland.

Or, are we looking at a medieval prank?
Sverrir points out that there might be an alternative explanation for the little doodle. He argues that the archive shows that "Ari was somewhat of a tough-guy, someone who pushed people about, rather than being pushed about himself, so it is possible the doodle is a cartoon, drawn by the bishopric's scribe, poking fun at Ari." 

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