Saturday, January 13, 8085

Orkney (UK) Islander (b. c. 1085) - St. Magnus

Orkney (Orkneys or Orkney Islands) is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated 10 miles (16 km) north of the coast of Caithness.


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain, is a sovereign island country located off the northwestern coast of mainland Europe. The UK includes the island of Great Britain, the northeast part of the island of Ireland and many small islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The largest island, Great Britain, is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.

The United Kingdom is a union of four constituent countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


Orkney comprises over 70 islands; around 20 are inhabited. The largest island, known as "Mainland," has an area of 202 sq mi (523 km²), making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.

Orkney has been inhabited for at least 5,500 years. Originally inhabited by neolithic tribes and then by the Picts, Orkney was invaded and finally annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. It was subsequently re-annexed to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry agreement.

Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Orkney Islands (b. c. 1085) - Hymn to St. Magnus "Nobilis Humilis"(c. 1115)

Denis Stevens (A Capella)

David Munrow (Psaltery)


The Pythagorean ideal accepted as consonances only intervals expressible in the simplest numerical ratios -- octaves, fifths, and fourths. But in the British Isles the interval of the third (as from C to E, or F to A) had been in common use for some time, although it is not expressible as such a simple ratio. In the Hymn to St. Magnus, the first thorough-going harmony in thirds appears.


A psaltery is a stringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family. The psaltery of Ancient Greece (Epigonion) dates from at least 2800 BC, when it was a harp-like instrument. Etymologically the word derives from the Ancient Greek(psalterion)“stringed instrument, psaltery, harp” and that from the verb (psallo) “to touch sharply, to pluck, pull, twitch” and in the case of the strings of musical instruments, “to play a stringed instrument with the fingers, and not with the plectron”.

In the King James Version of the Bible, "psaltery", and its plural, "psalteries," is used to translate the Hebrew keliy in Psalm 71:22 and I Chronicles 16:5; nevel in I Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5; I Kings 10:12; I Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 20, 28; 25:1, 6; II Chronicles 5:12; 9:11; 20:28; 29:25; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalms 33:2; 57:6; 81:2; 92:3; 108:2; 144:9; and 150:3; and pesanterin in Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, and 15.

In the Christian era a psaltery consisting of a soundboard with several pre-tuned strings that are usually plucked, came into use. It was also known by the name canon from the Greek word "kanon" which means rule, principle and also "mode." The modern Greek folk instrument is called by its diminutive, kanonaki. The instrument is usually small enough to be portable; its shape and range vary. It is depicted in a number of artworks from the Medieval Period.


Saint Magnus, Earl Magnus Erlendsson of Orkney, was the first Earl of Orkney to bear that name, and ruled from 1108 to about 1115. His story is told in two sagas, Magnus' Saga the shorter and longer and one legend, Legenda de sancto Magno.

Magnus's grandparents Earl Thorfinn and his wife Ingibiorg Finnsdottir had two sons, Erlend and Paul, who were twins. Through Ingibiorg's father Finn Arnesson and his wife, the family was related to the Norwegian Kings Olav II and Harald II.

Born in 1075, Magnus was the son of Erlend Thorfinnsson, Earl of Orkney, and he first served Magnus III of Norway as skutilsvein (approx. Chamberlain), who took possession of the islands in 1098, deposing Erlend and his brother, Paul. Paul's son, Haakon Paulsson, then became regent on behalf of the Norwegian prince, Sigurd, who made Haakon earl in 1105. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Magnus had a reputation for piety and gentleness, and blotted his record with the Norwegians by refusing to fight on a Viking raid on Anglesey, Wales, because of his religious convictions, instead staying on board singing psalms. He was obliged to take refuge in Scotland, but returned to Orkney in 1105 and disputed the succession with his cousin Haakon. Having failed to reach an agreement, he sought help from King Eystein II of Norway, who granted him the earldom and he ruled jointly and amicably with Haakon until 1114.

Their followers fell out, and the two sides met at the Thing (assembly) on the Orkney Mainland, ready to do battle. Peace was negotiated and the Earls arranged to meet each other on the island of Egilsay, each bringing only two ships. Magnus arrived on 16 April 1115) with his two ships, but then Haakon treacherously turned up with eight ships. Magnus was captured and offered to go into exile or prison, but an assembly of chieftains insisted that one earl must die. Haakon's standard bearer, Ofeigr, refused to execute Magnus, and an angry Haakon made his cook Lifolf kill Magnus by striking him on the head with an axe. It was said that Magnus first prayed for the souls of his executioners. Magnus was first buried on the spot he died. According to his legend, the rocky area around his grave miraculously became a green field. Later Thora, Magnus' mother asked Haakon allow her to bury him in a Church. Haakon gave his permission and Magnus was then buried at Christchurch at Birsay.

There were numerous reports of miraculous happenings and healings. William the Old, Bishop of Orkney, warned that it was "heresy to go about with such tales," then was struck blind at his church and subsequently had his sight restored after praying at the grave of Magnus, not long after visiting Norway (and perhaps meeting Earl Rognvald Kolsson).

Magnus's nephew, Rognvald Kali Kolsson, laid claim to the Earldom of Orkney, and was advised by his father Kol to promise the islanders to "build a stone minster at Kirkwall" in memory of his uncle the Holy Earl, and this became

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. When the cathedral begun in 1137 was ready for consecration the relics of St Magnus were transferred, and in 1917 a hidden cavity was found in a column, containing a box with bones including a damaged skull. These are held without (much) doubt to be the relics of St Magnus.

In the Faroes, the St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkjubøur was built about 1300 at the time of Bishop Erlendur. It is quite sure that the church was used for services (though it never was finished, or has been destroyed later), for estimated relicts of Saint Magnus were found here in 1905. Kirkjubøur is one of the most important Faroese historical sites and expected to become a World Heritage Site. In total there are 21 churches in Europe dedicated to St Magnus.

[8095 Compostela / 8085 Orkney]