St Magnus Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
At the west end of the church is a striking round tower, which still stands to almost its full height. The church lost its roof in the 19th century.
Death of a Saint
The church is dedicated to St Magnus, who was killed on Egilsay island, possibly on this very spot. It probably stands on the site of an earlier church which was mentioned in the Orkneyinga sagas as the place where Earl Magnus was killed sometime between 1115-1118.
Earl Magnus and Earl Hakon vied for the right to rule Orkney. Magnus died in a confrontation with Hakon on Egilsay, possibly in 1116, and just 20 years later in 1136 Bishop William of Orkney had Magnus recognised as a saint. The church was erected on the presumed site of Magnus' murder and became a place of veneration for pilgrims.
The most striking part of the roofless building we see today is the circular tower. The tower originally had five floors, stood some 20m (66 feet) high and could be seen for miles. It acted as a landmark for pilgrims seeking out the sacred site. The tower is similar to round towers in northern Germany and the North Sea, illustrating the vast area ruled by the powerful Earls of Orkney.
The remarkably complete building consists of three main parts; a chancel at the east end giving way to a central nave, and at the west end is the circular tower. Above the chancel was an upper floor housing a sacristy and treasury, though few traces of this chamber remain.
Egilsay can be reached by a regular ferry service from Tingwall. It is roughly 0.5 miles on foot from the ferry terminal to the church.
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About St Magnus Church
Address: Egilsay, Skaill, Orkney, Highlands and Islands, Scotland
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the island of Egilsay 0.5m from the Skaill pier. Reached by regular ferry service from Tingwall Terminal on Orkney Mainland
Website: St Magnus Church
Photo Credit: Bob Jones, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
Opening Details: Open access site, usually accessible at any reasonable time
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Nearest Holiday Cottages to St Magnus Church:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from St Magnus Church. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.