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As part of events planned by Orkney Islands Council to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus, and with the support of the Bishops Conference of Scotland, the Bishop of Aberdeen, Bishop Hugh Gilbert O.S.B, has announced a unique diocesan pilgrimage to Orkney, to take place over the weekend of 28-30 July 2017. The events will culminate in a Mass in St Magnus Cathedral on Sunday 30th July at 2.30 p.m. and an initial itinerary of the three days, is detailed below.

There has been much work and consultation with the parishioners of the parish of Our Lady and St Joseph, Kirkwall, Fr Peter Kelly, Bishop Hugh and Orkney Islands Council officers. God willing, all six bishops and two archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland will be in attendance, in addition to a Bishop from Norway.

St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney. He was killed on the island of Egilsay by his cousin Haakon. Although the actual date is known, (April 16th), the year is any of the years from 1115 to 1118, the most probable being 1117. Magnus was declared a saint about 20 years after his death, and there having been several miracles associated with him. His nephew, St Rognvald, built St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall to his memory, starting in 1137.

Bishop Hugh said:

“The diocese of Aberdeen is blessed to include the islands of Orkney, so rich in history and prehistory, landscape and seascape, and kindly creative folk. As Catholics we are also blessed by a culture of sanctity. We believe that the Body of Christ transcends time, and that the holy men and women of the past are still our companions today. In this coming 2017, Orkney is celebrating the 900th anniversary of its martyr for peace, Earl Magnus, a layman, a Norseman, a key figure in the Christianisation of the northern edges of Europe. The diocese of Aberdeen and the Catholic Church Scotland wants to mark this anniversary too, and will be doing so on the weekend of the 28th to 30th July 2017. There will be a series of events and opportunities for pilgrimage, culminating in a Mass in the beautiful Cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall, at 2.30 on the afternoon of Sunday 30th. Our celebrations have met with the support of the Orkney Islands Council, the Cathedral of St Magnus and other groups and churches. Enthusiasm is growing. The diocese will be releasing fuller details of the pilgrimage imminently. At a time when there is often a deadly deficit of peace and reconciliation, this Pilgrimage will be a moment to celebrate and embody those very values. You are warmly invited.”


There will be three days of celebrations with itinerary as follows:



A series of 30 min talks on the theme Magnus and his legacy: 19:00 - 21:30 in St Magnus Centre with an interval for tea and coffee.

  • Dr Ben Whitworth - Celebrating St Magnus in music.
  • Fran Flett-Hollinrake - The history of St Magnus Cathedral.
  • Dr Alison Gray - St Magnus and George Mackay Brown.
  • Rev Fraser Macnaughton (Orkney Pilgimage Group) - The development of the St Magnus Way.

Dr Ben Whitworth has done much research on St Magnus and has lectured on these topics. Fran Flett-Hollinrake is the Custodian of St Magnus Cathedral. Alison Gray is the author of George Mackay Brown – No Separation. George Mackay Brown wrote the book Magnus on which Peter Maxwell Davies based his opera The Martyrdom of St Magnus. The Orkney Pilgrimage Group has been instrumental in developing a new pilgrimage route, the St Magnus Way, which will be inaugurated in 2017 covering 55 miles and following the probable route of St Magnus’s bones to the Cathedral.



1. Pilgrimage to Egilsay 07:30 – 15:10

Egilsay ferry tickets only for those who have booked can be collected at the Information Desk at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church between 10am and 6pm on Friday 28th July.

The bus will leave from the Old Bus Station on Saturday 7.30am for 7.45am.

If you intend to travel by car to Tingwall please make sure you arrive before 8.15. (This only applies to those who have already booked via the Diocesan website).

Holy Mass will be celebrated at St Magnus Church followed by lunch on Egilsay.

St Magnus was martyred on April 16th on the island of Egilsay. Although now ruined, the church of St Magnus on Egilsay is a place of pilgrimage. It is a 12th century round-towered Viking church.

2. Pilgrimage to St Magnus Kirk, Birsay 08:45 – 14.30

Birsay is where St Magnus’s body was first buried.

It is essential that if you intend to go on this pilgrimage you must register your interest by 24th. July with the Diocesan Office – email: joyce@rcd-abdn.org tel.01224 319154. Alternatively you could call in at the Information Desk at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church in Kirkwall between 10:00.- 18:00. on Friday 28th.

Buses will take you to the start of the walk and will leave from the Old Bus Station, Kirkwall (Great Western Road) at 8.45. for 9.00am.

The full St Magnus Way is 55 miles. We will undertake to walk approximately 4 miles.

There will be a short ecumenical service at St Magnus Kirk, Birsay at approx.. 12.00. and then a walk along another short part of the Way to reach Birsay Community Hall where lunch may be purchased.

Buses will pick up from the Birsay Community Hall at around 13:45 to bring pilgrims back to Kirkwall arriving at about 14:30.

Note, there is no parking in Birsay.

3. There will be a Vigil Mass at 6pm. in Our Lady and St Joseph’s on Saturday evening.


SUNDAY 30TH JULY 14:30 – 16:30

The main event of the weekend is a Mass in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall at 2.30pm. The Aberdeen Diocesan Choir will be led by Elizabeth Meiklejohn and accompanied by the Orkney County Organist, Heather Rendall. The Aberdeen Diocesan MC, George Brand, will be organising matters for the bishops and priests who are concelebrating.

Web Sites

Aberdeen Diocesan Website : www.rcda.scot

Parish Website : www.catholicchurchorkney.org.uk

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A parish of the RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust, a registered Scottish Charity, number SC 005122