St Magnus Cathedral, known as “The Light in the North”, was founded in the year 1137 by Earl Rognvald-Kali. Rognvald was the nephew of Earl Magnus after whom the Cathedral is dedicated. Magnus was treacherously murdered by Haakon Paulson, his cousin and rival for the Norse Earldom of Orkney, as the two met on the island of Egilsay to discuss peace terms in 1116. In the 1120’s Rognveld fought a bitter struggle against Haakon’s son to win the Earldom for himself, and he promised to build a great stone church in the memory of his martyred uncle if he were successful. Both Magnus and Rognvald were made saints and their remains lie within the stonework of the Cathedral’s choir.
Built in both the Norman and early Gothic styles, the Cathedral is similar in design (though smaller in scale) to the magnificent Cathedral at Durham in the north-east of England. The similarities between the two aren’t that surprising when you consider that a number of the craftsmen and master builders employed at Durham also worked on St Magnus’ Cathedral.
From its foundation up to 1468, when Orkney finally became part of the Kingdom of Scotland, the Cathedral was part of the Norwegian arch-diocese of Trondheim. In 1486, King James III of Scotland, gave the Cathedral into the care of the people of Kirkwall…..it remains to this day the property of the people of Orkney.
As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m planning to share a second series of images dealing with the Cathedral’s beautiful interior…..so please watch out for that in the next few days.
© Mark Simms Photography (2013)