Examine the intriguing 17th-century tombstones housed inside this stunning sandstone cathedral.
St. Magnus Cathedral is among Orkney’s most recognizable and striking landmarks. Known as the “Light in the North,” this medieval cathedral dominates the skyline of Kirkwall. Inside are memorials to a number of prominent Orcadians. Take a guided tour of the building’s upper levels for wonderful views over the cathedral itself and the surrounding landscape.
The cathedral was built beginning in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald and named for his martyred uncle, Magnus Erlendsson, patron saint of the Orkneys. Look for the remains of St. Magnus and Rognvald, which are interred between the cathedral’s East Choir piers. Constructed using red and yellow sandstone, the cathedral’s design is primarily Norman. Work continued on the building for more than three centuries, and therefore you’ll also notice elements of transitional and early Gothic styles.
Much of the cathedral’s soft sandstone details have worn away over the centuries. Notice how the capitals around the main doors, for instance, have been eroded down to twisted stumps.
Step inside and admire the cathedral’s towering sandstone columns, which are supported by exposed brickwork arches. Inspect the 17th- and 18th-century epitaphs that line the walls, mainly along the north and south aisles. Many tombs feature intricate ornamentation, including skull and crossbones emblems. The west side of the building features a gorgeous stained-glass window, which was commissioned for the cathedral’s 850th anniversary in 1987.
Head to the far left of the cathedral to find the tomb of Victorian-era Arctic explorer Dr. John Rae, who discovered the final section of the Northwest Passage in Canada. The tomb of Scottish missionary explorer William Baikie is also located here.
Book a tour of the cathedral’s upper levels, which includes a visit to its tower. The upper levels offer magnificent views of the building’s interior as well as over all of Orkney. You’ll also have an opportunity to get a closer look at the beautiful west window, clock and three tower bells.
St. Magnus Cathedral is located in central Kirkwall and admission is free. Tours of the upper levels have a fee and must be arranged in advance. Opening hours vary by season. See the impressive artifacts housed inside this fine cathedral.