A one-armed atheist helped me up the steps to the Cathedral

A one-armed atheist helped me up the steps to the Cathedral.


St. Magnus CathedralEntrance to St. Magnus Cathedral

He saw my hesitation at the steep steps and asked if he could help me. I took hold of his one hand and climbed up the steps. Then he followed me in and began chattering away. It seems he wanted to be my tour guide as well.

I’ve learned if you listen well, people will give you their opinions, and it wasn’t long that he shared that he was an atheist. Well, we’re all the same people under the skin, but I really wanted to experience the St. Magnus Cathedral on my own.

“Thank you for being such a great guide,” I told him and he got the hint. However, by that time it began to rain and I left.  By the time I got back to the hostel, it was pouring rain, cold and windy and I was soaked to the skin.

Today, I got another try at learning the history of the Cathedral and I want to share it.

A summary begins in the ninth century when the Orkney farmers became afraid of the Vikings. The Vikings plundered, of course, but they also sought land, thus Orkney became a Viking settlement.

Fast forward to the twelfth century when Orkney was ruled by cousins, Hakon Paulson and Magnus Erlendson.

Magnus was drawn to a contemplative life from being educated in a monastery.The King of Norway made an expedition to the Hebrides and then on to Anglesey in Wales.

Magnus refused the order to fight.

“When the King asked why he was sitting down and not seeing to his weapons, Magnus replied that he had no quarrel with anyone there. ‘So I’m not going to fight,’” he said.

“‘God will shield me,’” answered Magnus. “‘I shall not be killed if he wishes me to live but I’d rather die than fight an unjust battle.’ Magnus took out his psalter and chanted psalms throughout the battle, and though he refused to take cover, he wasn’t wounded.” So states the information I picked up at the St. Magnus Center.

The story continues: Hakon and Magnus became disenchanted with each other and after Easter in 1117 it was decided to hold  a peace conference on the island of Egilsay.

It was agreed that each cousin was to take two ships each and equal number of men. Magnus got to Egilsay first.

When he saw eight warships he knew he was doomed. Magnus said he’d go into exile, or to prison for life, or be maimed or blinded but Hakon didn’t accept, and his chieftains wanted an execution.

Hakon told the man who was chosen to kill him not to weep because it wasn’t manly. “Don’t be afraid – you’re doing it against your will, and the man who gives the orders sins more gravely than you,” Magnus told him.

After he was executed, his body was taken to Birsay for burial. A cult grew up around Magnus, thinking him a healer, and in 1129, the King of Norway granted one half of the earldom of Orkney to St. Magnus’t nephew, Rognvald, but only if he would defeat Earl Paul son of Hakon.

After he failed, Kol, Rognvald’s father told him to vow to God that if he gained victory, he would build a magnificent stone at Kirkwall, and dedicate it to his uncle the holy earl Magnus. Rognvald kept his vow.

St. Magnus was canonized in 1137, and masons were brought to Kirkwall to begin the work.

The red sandstone was quarried at the Head of Holland, outside Kirkwall and the yellow stone came from the island of Eday.

After visiting the cathedral, I walked across the street to the Orkney Museum, which tells the story from the Stone Age, through the Picts (earlier people from North Scotland, I was told), and Vikings to the present day. I found the Stone Age artifacts especially interesting. I’m always amazed at the intelligence of the worlds’ early people.

I did one more thing today. I got a bus to the airport to pick up my certificate that certifies I flew on the world’s shortest scheduled air service between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray, as authenticated by Guinness World Records. It didn’t even bother me that my name was misspelled. It’s Laureen not Lauren, but no worries, I can slip an ‘e’ in there. See? No one is perfect. Thank you Margaret for your good eye with the correcting my typo of Westray.

2 Responses to A one-armed atheist helped me up the steps to the Cathedral

  1. Laureen…what an interesting story about the Cathedral…….as for the one arm atheist…………do they find you….or do you find them ???????
    Paula and Bud

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