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An introduction to all things Catholic in the Orkney Islands; our history and places of worship

Our Lady & St Joseph

Our Lady & St. Joseph Church, Kirkwall

1829 saw the creation of a Northern District (effectively the modern diocese of Aberdeen). For a while in the 1860’s, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland became part of a separated ‘Arctic Mission’. They were reincorporated into the Northern District prior to the re-establishment of the Scottish Catholic Hierarchy in 1878 by Pope Leo XIII.

Rt. Rev. John McDonald then became the first Roman Catholic Bishop of the newly restored Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen, the first since the Reformation. It was the same priest, whilst Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, who authorised the building of our Church. Our Church was completed in 1877.

On 29 September 1877 the 'Opening of a New Catholic Chapel' was reported in the local press. The building was erected by the firm of Wm Firth and Robert Fea on land known as Groats Garden. "It is a neat structure, and is the first Catholic Chapel built in Orkney since the Reformation."

The Church has been in constant use ever since.

Please check the latest Parish Newsletter for services this week.

Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

The Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer is a recognised Institute of Consecrated or Religious Life within the Catholic Church.

Bishop Hugh with members of the Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

As an Institute of Diocesan Right it is subject to the special care of our Diocesan Bishop. The community, consisting of priests and brothers, celebrates the Liturgy in Latin, according to the Extraordinary Form, with full approval of the Holy See.

The community are resident on the island of Papa Stronsay.

For more information please see www.papastronsay.com


"The Sacred Heart of Jesus" Chapel, Saville, Sanday. This Chapel is at Saville, the home of two parishioners, Maurice and Jean Soord. Special permission has been given by the Bishop, for Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The Chapel is open to all who wish to pray there.

Sacred Heart Chapel, Sanday

Once a month, our Parish Priest visits from Kirkwall to celebrate Mass. Because he is unable to celebrate Mass frequently, there is a Service of The Liturgy of the Word and Holy Communion each Sunday at 10.00am.

For more information on the island of Sanday please see the island website.

Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel, Lambholm, Orkney - exterior

The Italian Chapel lies on the small island of Lambholm. Built during WW2 by Italian POWs, it is all that remains of Camp 60 which housed POWs, helping in the construction of the Churchill Barriers. Winston Churchill ordered the creation of the barriers to permanently close the eastern approach to Scapa Flow following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by U47 on 14th October 1939.

The Italian Chapel, Lambholm, Orkney - interior

The internal decoration of this beautiful chapel (built from two Nissan Huts) was lovingly repaired by one of its creators (Domenico Chiocchetti) who returned in the 1960s to assist in restoration.

Mass is said in the chapel upon the first Sunday of each month in the summer (April-September) and upon the nearest Sunday of the commemoration of the sinking of HMS Royal Oak. Please check the latest Parish Newsletter to confirm date and time.

See Scotland's Churches Trust for more information.

A Brief History of Catholicism in Orkney

St.Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

The accepted view of Scottish historians has been that the Reformation saw the disappearance of Catholicism across Scotland and its replacement by the new dominant Scottish culture. However recent research shows that this was very far from being the case. The pre Reformation Church in Orkney was strong and vibrant embracing every aspect of daily life, centred, as it is now, on the Eucharist. The themes and tensions of the Medieval period, led to suppression of Catholic practice, but Catholicism was sufficiently incarnated among its adherents to surface throughout the Reformation period, demonstrating its vigour, adaptability and popularity.

Catholicism continued through key people and pioneering movements: Bishop Reid, Sir Huw Halcro, the Sinclairs, the Vincentian Thomas Lumsden, Scots College Paris, Principal Gordon, Bishop John Geddes, Ann Balfour, the Traills at Saville on Sanday, the islanders of Westray and South Ronaldsay, The North Pole Mission, the Jesuits, the Italian prisoners of war, George Mackay Brown, Catholic patterns of economic migration and monasticism reintroduced on Papa Stronsay at the end of the 20th century.

The Eucharist and its deep tradition of prayer continues to be nurtured in the Orkney land and seascapes. It is a fascinating story of survival and change in a religious community at the edge of Europe.

Alison Gray (Circle of Light)