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St Magnus Cathedral / Isle of Mainland **

Region: Orkney Islands

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Description:

St Magnus Cathedral known as the ‘Light in the North’ and dominating Kirkwall, was founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald, in honour of his uncle St Magnus who who had been executed at Egilsay in 1116.

His body was taken to Christ Church at Birsay and became a focus of pilgrimage. Supposedly a  bright heavenly light was often seen over Magnus' grave and people were cured of illnesses by praying at his graveside. At first the church in Orkney was highly sceptical of the new cult growing up around Magnus, but eventually he was accepted as a saint and his bones became holy relics. The impetus to build a new cathedral at Kirkwall came not from within the church but as a vow made by Earl Rognvald, then seeking control of the earldom: if he succeeded, he would build 'a stone minster at Kirkwall more magnificent than any in Orkney', which would be dedicated to St Magnus and would hold his relics. The episcopal seat was also to be in Kirkwall, and it has been suggested that Rognvald's vow reflects not only the medieval belief in the efficacy of saintly relics but also a shrewd political move on the part of the Orcadian Church, promising support for Rognvald in return for a fine cathedral and a new and more powerful centre for the bishopric. Rognvald succeeded in taking over the earldom and work began on building the Cathedral of St Magnus.

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