St. Magnus Cathedral

Kirkwall, United Kingdom

St. Magnus Cathedral was founded as a final resting place for the relics of St. Magnus. Work on its construction started in 1137. The Cathedral's founder was Earl Rognvald who supervised the earliest stages of the building during the bishopric of William the Old of Orkney (1102-1168).

Between 1154 and 1472, Orkney was ecclesiastically under the Norwegian archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim) and after that it became part of the Scottish province of St. Andrews. The Cathedral was assigned to the inhabitants of Kirkwall by King James III of Scotland in a charter dated 1486. One of the most notable bishops was Bishop Robert Reid who held the see of Orkney between 1541 and 1558.

The Reformation brought ruin to many cathedrals but St. Magnus Cathedral seems to have emerged relatively unscathed, although the organ, treasures and rich vestments were removed and the wall decorations were covered in whitewash.

In 1845 the Government presumed the ownership of the Cathedral, expelling the then congregation and carrying out major restoration work to the fabric of the building. In 1851 the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall re-established ownership of the building and the choir and presbytery were fitted with new pews and galleries for the reinstated congregation.

The Cathedral slowly deteriorated until the early 20th century when The Thoms Bequest made further major restoration possible. Between 1913 and 1930, the main alteration to the exterior of the Cathedral was the erection of a tall steeple which replaced the low pyramidal roof of the bell tower. Internally, the screen separating the choir from the nave was removed, along with the pews and galleries. Stained glass windows replaced the formerly plain windows, much of the floor was tiled and the warm red sandstone was revealed by the removal of plaster and whitewash.

Today St. Magnus Cathedral is a popular tourist destination. The great age of much of its structure means it has smaller windows than those found in more modern churches. The tall narrow nave gives the illusion of much greater size than is actually the case. Uniquely in Britain, the Cathedral has a dungeon or holding pen built between the south wall of the choir and the south transept chapel. It is known as Marwick's Hole, but the source of this name and the time of its origin are unknown.

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Details

Founded: 1137
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Graham Martin (6 months ago)
Really beautiful building. Welcoming staff. Level access. Plenty to see despite being smaller than most Cathedrals. Reminiscent (due to travelling builders) of Durham Cathedral, England.
Michael Wilson (6 months ago)
Limited opening to visitors at the moment but we got lucky. An impressive and atmospheric building which dominates Kirkwall's skyline. The graveyard outside the cathedral told some, in cases, sad tales, particularly the scale of infant mortality which our ancestors had to endure. Well worth a couple of hours of your time
David Burnett-Hall (6 months ago)
Very interesting but there's a lot of building work going on (summer 2021). Odd that it is owned by the council.
Kim Kjaerside (7 months ago)
We visited St Magnus Cathedral on our first full day on the Orkney Islands, along with the Orkney Museum, which was also really fascinating, mostly for us adults, as at the end of the day the kids (2 and 5) were unfortunately less interested.
solaris solaris (2 years ago)
monumental
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