Earl Magnus ruled in Orkney in the 12th century.  He met his death at Easter 900 years ago, all because of a family feud…

St Magnus Cathedral Earl Magnus

Earl Magnus and Earl Hakon

Cousins Earl Magnus and Earl Hakon, joint rulers of Orkney, did not get on.  They decided to meet on the island of Egilsay in Easter week to settle their differences.  The Orkneyinga Saga relates how the good, pious Magnus took two ships and the agreed number of men… but his wild, aggressive cousin arrived with eight ships and many armed men…

Earl Magnus sets sail for Egilsay Martyrdom of St Magnus

Once there Earl Hakon’s cook murdered Earl Magnus on the island of Egilsay.  These panels from the Cathedral, painted by Orkney school children, show Lilolf hewing ‘a great wound’ on Magnus’ head.

St Magnus Cathedral

Magnus had a nephew in Norway, Rognvald, who had a claim to his murdered uncle’s half of Orkney.  But Hakon’s son, Earl Paul had no intention of sharing his earldom or power.  Rognvald’s shrewd father, Kol noticed how popular Magnus had become. People travelled from all over Orkney to pray at his grave and many miracles occurred. “Build a stone minster at Kirkwall more magnificent than any in Orkney.” Kol advised his son.  Growing support for Rognvald allowed Earl Paul to mysteriously disappear.  The new Earl Rognvald and his father, the great architect Kol, set the foundation stone of St. Magnus Cathedral… as promised to the people of Orkney.

St Magnus Cathedral St Magnus stained glass The Founders of St Magnus Cathedral

The building took three centuries to complete. Some of the most beautiful stonework can be seen in the 13th century east wall with the great rose window where the three founders of the Cathedral stand: architect Kol with his plumb bob (left), Earl Rognvald holding a model of his Cathedral (centre) and the Cathedral’s first Bishop, William the Old (right).

The Cathedral Collections

Above the wooden carvings you can see three carvings in red sandstone.  They may once have been associated with three alters dedicated to St. Margaret, St Catherine and St Barbara.  Sheila has interpreted these stone carvings in sterling silver…

Stone carvings, recreated

Cathedral I (far left), is available online, Cathedral II & III (centre and right above) are currently exclusive to our shops, call The Workshop on 01856 861 203 or contact one of our shops for full details.  Sheila’s latest addition is Garnet Cathedral, with a handset deep red garnet.

Garnet Cathedral Pendant

The Garnet Cathedral pendant is on the Cathedral’s west window, created to celebrate the 850 anniversary of the foundation of the Cathedral. Born of murder and politics the Cathedral today is a magnificent building of red and yellow sandstone… and still belongs to the people of Kirkwall.  Magnus is still a popular name in Orkney today.

Happy Easter!