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Kirkwall

Old Cathedral Kirkwall

Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, received its first charter from James III. in 1486, but the provisions of this instrument being disregarded by such men as Robert (d. 1592) and Patrick Stewart (d. 1614), 1st and 2nd earls of Orkney, and others, the Scottish parliament passed an act in 1670 confirming the charter granted by Charles II. in 1661. The prime object of interest is the cathedral of St Magnus, a stately cruciform red sandstone structure in the severest Norman, with touches of Gothic. It was founded by Jarl Rognvald (Earl Ronald) in 1137 in memory of his uncle Jarl Magnus who was assassinated in the island of Egilshay in 1115, and aftei-wards canonized and adopted as the patron saint of the Orkneys.

The remains of St Magnus were ultimately interred in the cathedral. The church is 234 ft. long from east to west and 56 ft. broad, 71 ft. high from floor to roof, and 133 ft. to the top of the present spirethe transepts being the oldest portion. The choir was lengthened and the beautiful eastern rose window added by Bishop Stewart in 1511, and the porch and the western end of the nave were finished in 1540 by Bishop Robert Reid. Saving that the upper half of the original spire was struck by lightning in 1671, and not rebuilt, the cathedral is complete at all points, but it underwent extensive repairs in the r9th century. The disproportionate height and narrowness of the building lend it a certain distinction which otherwise it would have lacked. The sandstone has not resisted the effects of weather, and much of the external decorative work has perished. The choir is used as the parish church. The skellat, or fire-bell, is not rung now.

The church of St Olaf, from which the town took its name, was burned down by the English in 1502; and of the church erected on its site by Bishop Reid the greatest building the Orkneys ever had little more than the merest fragment survives. Nothing remains of the old castle, a fortress of remarkable strength founded by Sir Henry Sinclair (d. 1400), earl and prince of Orkney and 1st earl of Caithness, its last vesdges having been demolished in 1865 to provide better access to the harbour; and the earthwork to the east of the town thrown up by the Cromwellians has been converted into a battery of the Orkney Artillery Volunteers. Adjoining the cathedral are the ruins of the bishops palace, in which King Haco died after his defeat at Largs. The round tower, which still stands, was added in 1550 by Bishop Reid. It is known as the Mass Tower and contains a niche in which is a small effigy believed to represent the founder, who also endowed the grammar school.

To the east of the remains of the bishops palace are the ruins of the earls palace, a structure in the Scottish Baronial style, built about 1600 for Patrick Stewart, 2nd earl of Orkney, and on his forfeiture given to the bishops for a residence. Tankerness House is a characteristic example of the mansion of an Orkney laird of the olden time.



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