The first official event of the weekend was on Friday evening with a series of talks, exploring St Magnus’ past and present, giving pilgrims some background for the events ahead.
James Coll reflects:
The Saint Magnus Centre just up from the main door of the cathedral was the location for 4 excellent evening talks on Magnus.
Dr Ben Whitworth was first on, ‘Celebrating Magnus in music’. He reminded us that Peter Maxwell Davies wrote an opera, ‘The martyrdom of Saint Magnus’, which was based on the novel ‘Magnus’ by Orcadian Catholic writer George Mackay Brown. GMB as he is often referred to interwove the story of the martyrdom with another martyrdom, that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The talk was interspersed with excellent music to illustrate his points.
Ben was followed by Catholic writer Alison Gray. Alison is the author of ‘ Circle of Light: The History of the Catholic church in Orkney since 1560’, the story of keeping the faith alive in post-Reformation Scotland. Her latest work is ‘George Mackay Brown: No Separation ’and her talk was a distillation of her thinking on George’s writing and Catholic faith being inseparable. George’s novel and poetry were influenced and informed by his reading of the sagas, especially the ‘Orkneyinga Saga’.
Fran Flett-Hollingrake is the Custodian of Saint Magnus Cathedral and she gave us its history. It was built by a nephew of Saint Magnus, Earl Rognvald, and the saint’s bones were removed from Birsay and installed in a pillar of the cathedral. It is the large pillar just to the right of the altar when looking towards the stained glass window.
Rev. Fraser Macnaughton is the current minister to the Church of Scotland congregation who worship in the cathedral. His talk was on the creation of the Saint Magnus Way. This runs from Evie where the martyred earl’s body was brought from Egilsay, and goes to Birsay where he was buried. The route then comes to Kirkwall the way the, now saint’s, body was taken.