On the Saturday there was two pilgrimages for pilgrims to choose from; Birsay or Egilsay. Those who went on the Egilsay Pilgrimage took time to reflect on the final days of St Magnus’ life and his death and celebrate Mass in St Magnus Kirk on the island.
James Coll reflects:
A bright and early start for the pilgrims going to Egilsay. Pilgrims picked up their packed lunch provided by ‘the ladies of the parish’, another Catholic tradition. All available space was taken on the ferry ‘Eynhallow’ (Holy Island) and we sailed in glorious sunshine to Egilsay. The walls and some of the round tower are a clear navigation aid, you can’t miss them on the top of the hill. Once ashore the diocese banner was unfurled and we processed with prayers to the church. St. Magnus Kirk was built on the site of older one, presumably where Earl Magnus spent his last night of life. The commemorative mass was dedicated to Peace.
The sermon, on the theme of Peace, recounted how Earl Magnus Erlendson met his end on the orders of his cousin Hakon. The king of Norway had decided the earldom of Orkney should be ruled jointly, and at first things worked passably between the cousins, Hakon and Magnus. However, tensions arose, and to resolve these it was agreed each earl would come to Egilsay with only two ships. Magnus arrived first with his two and saw his cousin sail into view with his fleet. Magnus understood what was to be the outcome. He spent the night in prayer at the church and the next day met to negotiate. He offered three different ways to settle the matter rather than resorting to fighting. His offers were refused. Hakon’s lieutenant refused to kill Magnus, considering it beneath him to kill an unarmed man. The task was given to Lifolf the cook, who was forgiven by Magnus before he lay down to wait for the fatal axe stroke to the head.
Earl Hakon then ruled Orkney alone, fairly and well the Saga tells us. He also undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on his return constructed a church in the south mainland of Orkney at Orhpir, a smaller version of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Music for the mass, as well as a contribution during Sunday mass in the cathedral, was provided by harpist Fearghal McCartan.
The ruined kirk is an oblong building, with a still standing small corbelled section of roof, and a round tower which once stood 60 metres high. After mass, the pilgrims were able to enjoy the hospitality of the Egilsay community in their hall. Some made the short walk to the commemorative plinth built by the Rector of the Anglican Church of Saint Magnus in London, on the reputed site of the martyrdom.
The weather remained kind to the pilgrims until the return ferry and bus journey was under way, so no got wet. Orkney parish priest Father Peter’s commentary on the sites to be seen of Orkney were humorously pointed out on an ‘its over there in the mist somewhere’ basis.