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Thursday, 21 May 2015

A brief visit to St Magnus Cathedral



Yes, yes, I know, I've been very remiss with my blog AGAIN!  Anyway, back to last month when G visited for a  few days.  We took a quick tour round St Magnus Cathedral.  Ahem... I forgot to take a photo of the outside. Doh!  But you can take a look here at some photos of the outside.

Now, I'm not at all well up on religious iconography, so I shall be referring to the trusty free leaflet I picked up!  The Cathedral has a fascinating history and I do heartily recommend a visit, and maybe go on a tour too.

St Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137 by the nephew of St Magnus, Earl Rognvald. At the time Orkney was still part of Norway, and indeed Orkney only became part of Scotland in the 15th Century when the Scottish King James III gave the cathedral to the people of Orkney. And there it resides.  The local council have responsibility for maintaining it on behalf of the people, and the Church of Scotland hold services here. Though any Christian denomination can use the building.

Since the foundation of the Cathedral it has, like many other cathedrals, undergone change with additions, and of course there is an ongoing need for restoration too.   The stained glass window above is a relatively new addition, installed in 1987 and contains images of Orkney including the Scottish Primrose (bottom right corner).

There are a number of gravestones lining the walls.  These were originally laid over graves in the nave but over the years the graves were exhumed and reburied in the graveyard and the stones line the walls.


As well as what appears to us rather macabre carvings like the skull and crossbones, there are also more poignant touches. In the corner of this headstone is a heart, though I'm not sure what the triangle over the heart means!


I love the patterns in the stone along the walls.







There are a number of windows around the cathedral that date from the 1920s and were designed by the Glasgow stained glass artist Oscar Paterson.


In a pillar in the Choir part of the cathedral is a casket containing human bones which are believed to be those of St Magnus who was murdered on the Orkney island of Egilsay by his cousin, Hakon, or to be precise his cousin, story has it, got his cook to actually kill him.


On a cheerier note, in the chapel that dates from the 13th century are some interesting carvings hidden among the pillars.  These include dragons, an imp, and "Green Men", no not martians or extra terrestrials! The Green Man is often seen as a symbol of rebirth and is very familiar around the UK, often as a pub name!  (Ahem, yes that's more like it!).  Anyway, here are a couple that we spotted....



And here we have the St Magnus Cathedral equivalent of "Poets Corner" (found in Westminster Abbey in London), And that's a neat link, though I say so myself, as the chap forever "resting" on this memorial is Dr John Rae who left Orkney to work for the Hudson's Bay Company, and explored the Canadian Arctic and discovered the Northwest Passage.  He is now buried in the graveyard, but has a memorial here, and *finally* is recognised more widely for his achievements and has a memorial in Westminster Abbey too.  There are also memorials here to Orkney's other famous writers, poets, and artists.


The chapel has a distinctly Norwegian feel to it and indeed it is dedicated to the cathedral's founder, St Rognvald.  The furniture and iconography were redesigned in 1965 by Orcadian artist, Stanley Cursiter. The figure on the left is Rognvald, holding the cathedral.


Not quite sure what this image symbolises...balance? Straight lines (plumb line of a builder?). No idea! Though he was Rognvald's father.


This is the cathedral's oldest gravestone and is thought to date from the 13th century.  The iconography possibly denotes a crusader or a Templar Knight.


Here is an image of St Olaf, who was from the same archdiocese (Nidaros/Trondheim) in Norway that Orkney was once part of.



This is a memorial to those who lost their lives on HMS Royal Oak, in Scapa Flow in 1939. There is a book of remembrance, and the pages are turned regularly to reveal the names. The brass bells is from the ship itself.


Around the choir are some interesting carvings too, like this eagle. There's also a pelican, not sure what that symbolises in terms of a cathedral?


And the choir itself, looking towards the Rose Window....


 Here we have the old market cross that used to stand outside on the market green.


And this is a Mort Brod - apparently it's a "wooden death notice" which commemorates a Kirkwall glazier, Robert Nicholson. It's one of the oldest of it's kind.


And another view of the Rose Window...


Looking down the cathedral nave to the Rose Window.


There are also mason's marks left by the craftsman who have worked on the building over the years and they can be spotted around the cathedral.  Here's one - a crow's foot.


I think this might be a bit of graffiti!


And on our way out, ta-da - I love a bit of "door furniture"!


Outside you can see that the soft sandstone of the building is wearing away



Maintenance on a beautiful old building is never ending.  And the latest generation of stone masons are continuing the work of the original builders.  I'm delighted to say a young Orkney lass has an apprenticeship at the cathedral.  You can hear about here here....



And here is a short film (about 15 mins) of St Magnus Cathedral and Kirkwall town centre taken by a young visitor to the isles recently. Talented lad who has produced some lovely short films of Orkney. I'll try and share some more.


So - hope you enjoyed your tour around the Cathedral and it's environs!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Sunset interlude



A slight intermission in our tour of Orkney!  Just busy with work at the moment. However there are some lovely sunsets at the moment so here are some photos of one earlier this week. Click on a picture to see a larger version!

I love the sun warming up the sandstone on the end of the house, and lighting up the tower of Hoy High lighthouse.




And on the sandy beach....





Meanwhile back along the shore...


Some of the rocks stretching their fingers out towards the sun... on the right is the old Sandside pier.


And this is on the other side of the pier....


A little ringed plover running about in the evening light.


Tranquility on the coral beach...


Glimpes between the old stone buildings of the steading. The the right the roof of the henny house.


The old buidlings silhouetted against the fading sunset.


And Button has come out to see what all the fuss is about before setting off on a hunt.


And a short video (33 seconds) of the waves on the beach.... (sorry for the wobble!)


And another one on the coral beach - above my heavy breathing (no it's NOT that kind of video!) you can hear a wren singing.


Hope to be back shortly with some more photos of adventures around Orkney Mainland...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Out to Birsay....



So, after our trip to Skara Brae and the parish of Sandwick, let me take you out to Birsay. Ah first we must stop for lunch at the Orkney Brewery. No NOT a liquid lunch, though the beer is very good, but some lovely soup, or maybe the cheese platter, or a sandwich?? Oh all right then, you can try a bottle of the Corncrake ale....


We don't have time to take the tour today. But lunch was good!  The Orkney Brewery building is in part of an old school.  Photos of former pupils adorn the walls....



Do you remember having to stand to attention at school?!


And for kids, a chance to try on a very old "school uniform"!


And outside the sun is still shining....


Local farmers are doing their Spring ploughing....


And time to inhale the aroma from the brewery chimney!



 And of course lunch for the wee doggies that waited so patiently in the car. Pippa and Lyra... posing nicely waiting for lunch!


Now we can set off for Birsay and a walk along the coast....


Just offshore, accessible at low tide is the Brough of Birsay.


It has a lighthouse at the top of the island.



And the remains of Pictish and Norse Settlements (Click on the picture to see the remains near the shore).


And along the shore you can see, in the distance, the island of Westray. One of the more Northerly of the Orkney islands. We'll take a nice easy flat walk now along the coast... my lungs like "flat"!


And celandines are blooming. It's Spring!


Along the shore are little inlets....


And a dog out with his person did what sheepdogs do the world over...herd people in the absence of dogs!


Well we had two dogs with us but I think he thought they were hairy pyjama cases! Shetland Collies look like that!  Lassie with short legs....(see photo above...)


This is what we are walking towards....the old Whalebone, one of the most photographed bits of Birsay I think!


But first we go past the restored 19th Century fishermen's huts and the boat nousts where fishermen would haul their boats up above high tide.


And here we are at the whalebone... It is the remnant of a whale washed ashore in the 1870s. It looks rather like a bird in flight.  There is a fascinating story about it (and this walk) here


We need to head back now, look at this cloud - I think a hail shower might be due!


And a short drive from the Brough of Birsay is one of my favourite galleries. Home to Jon Thompson and Lesley Murdoch.



Jon creates the most beautiful birds in wood. They are so tactile.  He also does a lot of work in ceramics, but it's the wooden birds that steal my heart. These I loved....


You can see some of the ceramic birds here... below the paintings.


And outside, miniature gardens... my favourite is the one with the standing stones....


And I love the "rock rose" growing out of the "ball"


So I hope you enjoyed your trip "out West" to Birsay.  Next post we'll take a quick trip to St Magnus Cathedral and back to Stromness for a tour of the Ness Battery.