RC Diocese of Aberdeen

Magnus 900

Magnus 900

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.

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.

Bishop Hugh's Message:

“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 Island 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.”

Latest News:

Who is St Magnus?

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.


Friday 28th July 2017

A series of 30 min talks on the theme Magnus and his legacy: 7pm – 9.30pm 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
  • TBA (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. Dr 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. Dr Sarah-Jane Gibbon is one of the leading organisers of the new pilgrimage route, the St Magnus Way, which will be inaugurated in 2017 covering 51 miles and following the probable route of St Magnus’s bones to the Cathedral.

Saturday 29th July 2017

There are two events and pilgrims can choose which to attend, with time information below. Details may change hence the importance to keep in touch with the diocesan office and web site over coming months. There are two pilgrimages (Egilsay and Birsay) which are both happening, independently. The Birsay version will have an ecumenical service in St Magnus Kirk Birsay.

Additionally, there is to be a civic reception at 4pm  on Saturday afternoon and it is intended that there will be a vigil mass (about 6pm) in Our Lady and St Joseph’s on the Saturday, and further details will be forthcoming on this.

Crucially, the pilgrimage to Egilsay is limited in numbers and if you are interested in this, please let the Diocesan office know ASAP, email:  joyce@rcd-abdn.org or tel. 01224-319154.  A rough schedule for both pilgrimages follows:

Pilgrimage to Egilsay 07:30 – 15:10
including transport from Kirkwall, service at St Magnus Church and 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.
(NB. All timings are approximate at the moment)

07:30 – Gather for buses in Old Bus Station, opposite Lidl, Kirkwall and to receive boat tickets
07:45 – Hired buses leave Kirkwall for Tingwall
08:15 – Arrive Tingwall (Orkney Ferries want us to gather at this time)
08:40 – Ferry leaves Tingwall for Egilsay
09:25 – Ferry arrives at Egilsay, walk to St Magnus Kirk
10:00 – Service in St Magnus Kirk and free time
12:00 – Lunch in the Egilsay Community Hall
13:15 – Arrive at pier to catch ferry (Orkney Ferries want us to gather at this time)
13:35 – Ferry leaves Egilsay
14:30 – Ferry arrives Tingwall
14:40 – Hired buses leave Tingwall for Kirkwall
15:10 – Hired buses arrive at Old Bus Station, opposite Lidl, Kirkwall


Pilgrimage to St Magnus Kirk, Birsay 08:45 – 14:30

The full St Magnus Way is 51 miles, and so only part will be undertaken. The walk will start at Costa, there will be a short ecumenical service at St Magnus Kirk, Birsay, and then a walk along another short part of the Way to reach Birsay Community Hall where lunch may be purchased. Birsay is where St Magnus’s body was first buried. The first part of the walk is about 4 miles on grass, and the second part is about a mile mainly on road. Buses will pick up from the Birsay Community Hall to bring pilgrims back to Kirkwall. Note, there is no parking at the Costa end of this pilgrimage, nor in Birsay village.

08:45 – Gather for hired buses in Old Bus Station, opposite Lidl, Kirkwall
09:00 – Hired buses leaves Kirkwall for Costa
09:45 – Commence walk to Birsay
12:00 – Service at St Magnus Kirk, Birsay
12:30 – Leave Birsay for remaining walk to Birsay Community Hall (soup and rolls available)
13.30 – Gather in car park at Birsay Community Hall
13.45 – Hired buses leave Birsay Community Hall for Kirkwall
14:15 – Hired buses arrive at Old Bus Station, opposite Lidl, Kirkwall

Sunday 30th July 2017

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.


Travel and Accommodation

It is very important that those wishing to participate, make their travel and accommodation arrangements ASAP. The diocesan web site will include links to sites that may assist with this. For travel and accommodation arrangements, a very useful site is www.visitorkney.com Tourism is the second industry in Orkney after farming. Hotel beds, hostels, B&Bs all get booked up long in advance. For example, the School Hostel (70 places) is already booked from 22nd-30th July 2017. Please do not delay making arrangements should you wish to participate in this historic event.

Subject to accommodation, as many people who can attend, are very welcome. Those interested in attending should follow the information contained at www.magnus900.co.uk and keep in touch as necessary with the Diocesan Office at joyce@rcd-abdn.org  and 01224-319154, along with updated news when available via the Diocesan web site.

Useful Links:

More details on St. Magnus, Egilsay, Birsay and general background on Orkney are available from the websites: