Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Island Paradise: St. Magnus Cathedral Exterior

Back in December, I posted about St. Magnus Cathedral, and shared a few pictures from my stroll around the interior. Equally impressive is the exterior. You can see it from the air here. The Orcadians began construction of St. Magnus Cathedral in 1137 under the leadership of Earl Rögnvald, and it's built from red and yellow sandstone quarried from Kirkwall and Eday, respectively.

Outside the kirk is the kirkyard, with a lot of beautiful old epitaphs for residents of Kirkwall who have died over the years. Many of the older epitaphs have been moved inside and decorate the north and south walls of the cathedral. Both the language and the iconography one finds on the epitaphs are fascinating - true works of art.

Outside the main entry to St. Magnus is this pillar/cross thing. As I was taking pictures and looking around the front of the cathedral, there were these kids (young adults, I guess) who were riding around Kirkwall in the back of a truck. Later, I saw the kids from the back of the truck affixing a young lad and lass to the pillar/cross thing with saran wrap and making them look all filthy and goofy and such. When asked, Gray 2 later explained that this is an Orkney tradition known as a "blackening", though I'm not sure if all blackenings on the Orkney Mainland happen at St. Magnus. Anyway, as you can see, I got a picture, plus there's a video on YouTube of another Orkney blackening so you can get an idea of what I witnessed.

On my last night in Orkney, I went back to St. Magnus Cathedral to get some shots of it lit up at night. I've seen a lot of cathedrals over the years, and a couple of pretty impressive mosques. St. Magnus Cathedral remains my favorite of all time. It's so distinctly Orcadian: small, but beautiful, proud, and rugged. With its monuments and memorials to the fallen and to great Orcadians, its interior speaks to the rich Nordic, Scottish, and British history of the island. With its weathered exterior, it reminds visitors of many of the traits that make Orkney and its Orcadian inhabitants such a special place and people.

After eight years, one month, and eighteen days away, one last visit to St. Magnus Cathedral was a fitting end to my triumphant return to this island paradise.

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