Saint Magnus was born Magnus Erlendsson in 1080 CE in Orkney, the son of Erlend Thorfinnsson, Earl of Orkney. When the Norwegian, King Magnus Barelegs took Orkney, deposing the father, Magnus and his cousin Haakon on raiding expeditions down the west coast of the British Isles.
However, the Christian faith had been brought to Orkney by Olav Tryggvason, King of Norway in 995 CE, and as a follower of this religion, Magnus’s piety and gentleness was at odds with his Norwegian companions. They mistrusted his seemingly cowardly ways, initially rejecting his rights of succession when he returned to Orkney 1105 CE, but after appealing to King Eystein I of Norway, Magnus was granted joint Earldom alongside his cousin Haakon.
Yes we have three different accounts of Magnus and whilst scholars previously wondered whether the stories were heightened mythical retellings of the Christ story, the discovery of his skull in the Cathedral, bearing the very axe blow described in the Sagas, put his existence beyond reasonable doubt.
While the power-sharing arrangement initially worked, things turned sour and the two rivals and their followers met ready to do battle. Orkney was on the verge of civil war and great bloodshed. Seeing this, Magnus agreed to meet Haakon on the island of Egilsay and settle for the peace. Following the terms of the agreement, only two ships from each side were to sail for Egilsay, but on arrival Magnus discovered that Haakon had betrayed the deal and brought a warring party of eight ships.
Magnus was captured, and his offer to go into exile was rejected by his captors. They insisted that one of the two earls must die, and Haakon ordered his cook, Lifolf, that Magnus be struck down with an axe blow to head. Magnus prayed for his executioner, knowing that his martyrdom would bring peace to islands.
With a single axe blow to his skull, Magnus died instantly.
Magnus’ body was initially buried where he fell, on Egilsay, but his mother wanted him to be interred in a church, so a party set sail and collected his body from the island. When they landed on back on the Orkney mainland, they took his body for burial in Birsay.
However, word started spreading of miracles and wonders. Healings were being attributed to Magnus, and when the Bishop of Orkney warned his church against heresy, he was mysteriously and suddenly struck blind. Stranger still, his sight was restored only when he prayed at the grave of Magnus. So in 1136 CE, Magnus was canonized by the Bishop William of Orkney and a year later, work began on the construction of a Cathedral in the town of Kirkwall, where to two sides of the Orkney mainland join together, echoing the unifying sacrifice made by Magnus. As part of the consecration of the building, the relics of Magnus were carried from Birsay to Kirkwall, and laid to rest in the Cathedral.
The Saint Magnus Way is a 55 mile pilgrimage that begins following the route which the body of Magnus Erlendsson was taken, after his martyrdom on the Island of Egilsay at the hands of his cousin and rival Haakon Paulsson. First buried on Egilsay, Magnus’ mother gained permission to move his body for burial to the grounds of Christchurch in Birsay, then later the remains were moved to Kirkwall to be ultimately interred in the Cathedral that bears his name, built in tribute to him.
What is the St Magnus Way?
No! As much as possible we are working to ensure the whole route can be accessed in smaller chunks and shorter circular walks. Car parking is an issue in some places – please don’t park in front of gates, they are in daily use and you endanger animal welfare by blocking access to fields
Much of the path is unsuitable for bikes, so you won’t be able to complete the trail if you’re cycling. We are working on an on-road cycle version of the route for later in the year.
If you get into difficulties around the coastline or at sea and require assistance, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. NHS Orkney provide advice on who to turn to for a range of medical problems.
The pilgrimage route is waymarked – look out for the St Magnus Way logo on fenceposts as you walk. You can also download maps and gpx route files for mobile mapping applications from our website www.stmagnusway.com
Please take due care and responsibility for your own health and safety when visiting the waypoint and locations described and listed in this app. Orkney Pilgrimage accepts no responsibility for any loss, injury or damage resulting from visits to any of the waypoints or locations , nor for any loss, injury or damage resulting from participation in any activities whilst using this app. All content within the app has been sourced by volunteers of Orkney Pilgrimage based on the best available information at the time of research. Orkney Pilgrimage do not accept any liability for the publication of this information, which should not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.