18 kilometers northeast of Qaqortoq, Hvalsey is part of Qaqortukulooq, one of the five sites of the UNESCO World Heritage Arctic farming complex Kujataa. Between Eriksfjord to the north and Einarsfjord to the south, the Hvalseyfjord branches off from Einarsfjord. Although Hvalsey is better known for the well-preserved ruins of one of the sixteen churches in the Norse’s Eastern Settlement, the church was in a farmstead known as Thjodhild’s Stead. This farmstead at the northeastern end of the fjord included a large building with living quarters, a hall and livestock pens, as well as other livestock pens, a storage building and a warehouse –the ruins of which can still be seen. The Norse farming laid the foundation for the Inuit farming in later centuries, leading to the UNESCO World Heritage status in 2017. In the 14th century account “Descriptions of Greenland” the abundant fish, a reindeer farm on Reindeer Island and Hvalsey’s name “Whale Island” clearly indicate that the Norse had ample food sources at that time.
The church was built in the Anglo-Norwegian style of the 13th century, but is known to have been built over an older graveyard. The farmstead is mentioned in the Icelandic “Book of Settlements” as property of the Kings of Norway, and the last documented event of the Norse in Greenland is a wedding which took place in the church in September 1408. After almost 600 years of abandonment, conservation work had to be done to prevent the seaward wall from collapsing.