I like to think of ourselves as observant intuitive people, open to new experiences. So when we found out that not one but two remarkable well preserved antiquities were hiding in Kirkwall, if I’m being honest, I was shocked. Turns out they were not hiding and not at all far from the St. Magnus Cathedral, which we see almost every day. In fact they are across the street from St. Magnus Cathedral.
I had seen a small sliver of the Bishop’s Tower many times but thought nothing much of it. The tower looked closed, which it was, but we were still flaunting Rule#2 in a clear violation. Don’t know why, just assumed there wasn’t much there there.
We’d gotten to calling friendly Kirkwall home and after walking up to the launderette to drop off some badly needed washing, we ambled over to the side street beside St. Magnus to the tower. Much cooler closer. We found that the tower was part of William the Old of the Norwegian Catholic Church’s Palace, built in the early 1100’s.
We skated on in, Scot-free as it were, due to our Historic Scotland pass thingie.
It’s basically two rectangles of two stories each, with a large hall on the second floor, divided by a second story entryway and the Bishop’s living quarters in the tower facing St. Magnus, which is ironic because it seems that Old William hated Magnus the man, considering that he was murdered in a dispute over money. In short the Bishop considered Magnus a charismatic fraud and poo-pooed the cult that sprung up among his followers who claimed he performed miraculous cures from the grave.
However, in desperation the bishop himself sought out Magnus’s grave in Birsay due to a spot of blindness, which miraculously disappeared after I would imagine some sincere prayer. The Bishop decided to bring some of the relics to Kirkwall to be interred in the cathedral, lending official recognition to St. Magnus’ Sainthood. You just can’t have too many magical miracle relics. I can’t vouch for any of this. You be the judge, but all I know is there is a well-used pilgrimage called the St. Magnus trail that traces the route they used to bring the relics from Birsay to Kirkwall.
Our old friends Black Earl Robert Stewart and his fiesty son Patrick are at again, honing their skills at fraud, tyrannical oppression, carnal overindulgence, debauchery, and fathering some 19 children, some of whom were actually legitimate, and finally, magnificent architecture.
The Earl’s Palace is another kettle of fish. It was finished in 1607, built by forced labor and displaying all of his stylistic flourishes but done on an even more grand scale.
In a touch of irony, Patrick stole the property next to the Bishop’s residence by having the poor owner beheaded for theft. That being said, this is truly a magnificent ruin.