The last time a volcano erupted on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula was almost 800 years ago. So consider this a 1-in-800-year shot: “On March 24th, I photographed the Geldingadalur volcano with auroras dancing overhead,” reports Christopher Mathews.

Breaking 8 centuries of quiet, the volcano erupted last week on March 19th. Lava oozing through the ground was bright enough to see from Earth orbit as incandescent fountains illuminated the dark landscape.

Mathews immediately began planning his photo shoot. “The night the Geldingadalur volcano erupted, I began scouting locations for this shot,” he says. “There were good auroras over the weekend, but cloud cover blocked them–a huge disappointment. Last night an unexpected snow squall appeared, blotting out the sky and even the eruption itself–another heart-breaker. But then, around midnight, the skies cleared and auroras promptly lit off over the volcano.”

We won’t have to wait 800 years for the next shot. Historical accounts and ancient lava flows show that whenever Geldingadalur has experienced a significant uptick in seismic activity, intermittent eruptions follow for 100 years or so. This eruption could signal a re-awakening.

“It was a magical sight,” says Mathews, “one I took especially to heart because it happened to be my birthday!” Talk about birthday candles…