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Folk tale: The story of Katla the hag and her magic breeches

Folk tale: The story of Katla the hag and her magic breeches ŮykkvabŠjarklaustur monastery in the locality of ┴lftaver was established by Bishop KlŠngur

Folk tale: The story of Katla the hag and her magic breeches

ŮykkvabŠjarklaustur monastery in the locality of ┴lftaver was established by Bishop KlŠngur in 1169. The monastery would have a long and distinguished history and its first abbot was St Ůorlßkur, Iceland┤s patron saint.

ŮykkvabŠjarklaustur monastery in the locality of ┴lftaver was established by Bishop KlŠngur in 1169. The monastery would have a long and distinguished history and its first abbot was St Ůorlßkur, Iceland┤s patron saint.

There┤s a well-known legend that once there was an abbot who had a housekeeper called Katla. She was a large, bad-tempered woman. Rumour had it that Katla was a witch. In her possession was a pair of magic breeches whose power was that whoever wore them could run as fast as the wind and never tire.

Many were in fear of Katla and steered well clear of her. Even the abbot himself had had his fill of the old hag┤s boorish ways. á

The abbot had a shepherd, Bar­i by name. The poor lad often bore the brunt of Katla┤s rage if any sheep were missing. One autumn the abbot and Katla went off on a visit, though with the intention of riding home to the monastery that same evening. Katla insisted that the sheep be rounded up and be in the pen ready for milking when she returned. Bar­i set off to find the flock but the sheep were nowhere to be found. In desperation he put on Katla┤s breeches, raced off and didn┤t stop running till he┤d found every single sheep and brought them home.

When Katla came back she knew at once that Bar­i had used her breeches. Such was her rage that she grabbed the poor shepherd and drowned him in a large vat of whey by the main entrance, leaving the body submerged. Everyone wondered as to what had become of the shepherd lad. As time went on and summer arrived the level of the whey in the vat dropped. When Katla went to the barrel people could hear her mutter, ôSoon Bar­i will appear.ö When the hag realized that soon her terrible secret would be discovered, she put on her breeches and fled from the monastery northwards towards the Mřrdal glacier. When she got there she threw herself into a canyon that since bears the name Katla┤s Canyon. A short time later a great flood of water gushed from the glacier and flooded the entire south coast. And so the name Katla has been given to that notorious active volcano lurking beneath the glacier cap. Ever since people have believed that the glacial floods from Mřrdal glacier are the nasty work of that evil witch, Katla.

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Stories written by Lilja Magn˙sdˇttir

Translation and narration by Neil McMahon


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Vatnajokull national parká á á áKatla Geoparká á á áKirkjubŠjarstofaá á ááVisit South Icelandá á áInspired by Icelandá á áIcelandic Tourist Boardá áá

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