St Magnus Cathedral stands at the
north-eastern corner of Broad Street and Palace Road in Kirkwall,
capital of the Orkney Islands. It was built for the bishops
of Orkney when the islands were ruled by the Norse earls of Orkney.
It is owned not by the church but by the burgh of Kirkwall as a
result of an act of King James III of Scotland following Orkney's
annexation by the Scottish crown in 1468. Construction began in
1137, and this was added to over the next 300 years.
The first bishop was William the Old, and the
diocese was under the authority of the archbishop of Nidaros in
Norway. It was for Bishop William that the nearby Bishop's Palace
was built while the cathedral has its own dungeon. Its original
design was based on that of Durham Cathedral. Only fragments of that
building remain following successive rebuilds, but the walls,
ceiling, and pillars would have been plastered and painted with
colourful floral patterns, sadly all gone now.
By 1152 the choir and three pillars of the nave
had been built. By the mid-1100s the apse was also in existence at
the east end. Many years later a casket with the bones of St Magnus
was discovered in this area. In the 1960s it became clear the the
entire building was in serious danger of subsiding, and restoration
work had to be carried out in 1974. Today, the cathedral is a parish
church of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and, therefore,
technically no longer a cathedral.
St Mary's (Old) Church, Burwick, is on
the south side of the A961 as it crosses Burwick Loch, with the
bay and the ferry terminal on its south flank in the South Ronaldsay
parish. Built in 1789 to replace an older building it was otherwise
known as the Lady Kirk, and reputedly stands on the arrival
site of the first Christian missionaries to visit Orkney. It houses
a rounded grey whin stone carved with two footprints which
may (or may not) be a Pictish coronation stone.
The Italian Chapel sits at the north-east
end of Lamb Holm island, close to the south coast of Mainland and
immediately north of Burray. It was built between 1943-1944 by some
of the 500-plus Italian PoWs who had been captured in North Africa
and who were tasked with building the island's Churchill Barriers
to prevent a possible enemy landing. With the prisoners requiring
a Catholic chapel, they constructed this from two concrete Nissen
huts joined together.
One of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti,
was highly artistic. He undertook to complete the chapel's
stunning internal decoration. Another prisoner, Giuseppe Palumbi,
had been a blacksmith, and it was he who made the elaborate
sanctuary screen. More recently, Antonella Papa, a restoration
artist from Rome who had previously worked in the Sistine Chapel,
spent a month working in the chapel to refresh areas of
Chiocchetti's painting which had faded over time.
Three photos on this page kindly contributed
by Sam Weller and two by Stuart Smith, all via the 'History
Files: Churches of the British Isles' Flickr group, and one
photo originally published on Lynne's 'Echoes of the Past'
blog and reproduced here with permission.