12th, 13th and later centuries; begun, 1137; renovated, 1800, 1848, 1893, 1913-1930. Norman, Romanesque and Gothic, cruciform-plan Cathedral with lean-to aisles, divided by full-height piers with moulded angles and large cylindrical and fluted conical-capped pinnacles; gabled N and S transepts with similar pinnacles flanking; central square-plan tower with octagonal spire; chapel bays to E of each transept. Red and yellow sandstone ashlar and rubble with polished dressings. Base course; various string and cill courses, continuous as hood moulds over some openings; corbelled parapets to aisles, nave and transepts, (N side of nave with inverted fleur-de-lys decoration in place of corbelling); shouldered buttresses dividing aisle bays. Round- and pointed arched multi-moulded (some with chevron and dog-tooth) openings with nook-shafts, some with alternating bands of red and yellow stone; stone tracery, mullions and transoms; rose windows to E end and to S transept; decorative cast-iron strapwork hinges. Tower: cill and lintel courses; corbelled parapet with 3 gabletted openings and 2 outshot drainage gargoyles to each face; nook-shafts to multi-moulded, pointed-arched, louvered double windows to each face; crocketed gables to trefoil-headed openings to alternating sides of spire; weather-vane.
W (ENTRANCE) ELEVATION: 3-bay. Stone steps to shallow, gabled entrance at ground in bay to centre; multiple nook shafts supporting multi-moulded, pointed arch; 2-leaf boarded doors; pointed-arched traceried window; small window to crucifix-finialled gablehead above. Similar, smaller doorpieces with single boarded doors to each aisle bay flanking; small, trefoil-headed window above.
E (REAR) ELEVATION: multi-moulded four-centred arch with flanking nook-shafts spanning rose windows over tall 4-light window in bay to centre; oculus to fleur-de-lys-finialled gable above. Window in each aisle bay flanking; small round-arched window, set close to centre gable, above.
N (SIDE) ELEVATION: 15-bays, grouped (from left, E) 5-1-1-8. Single-bay, gabled, 3-stage transept set to left of centre: window at 1st and 2nd stages; double window at 3rd stage; oculus to finialled gablehead above; window at each stage with small window flanking to left in right return; single bay gabled, (with window to gablehead) rectangular-plan chapel with window to N and E elevations in left return. Window in each bay to aisle in 5-bay group to left; corbelled, polygonal wallhead stack between bays 3 and 4 from left; 6 windows to nave clerestory above. 8-bay group to right: narrow, trefoil-headed window in bays 1 and 2 from right; diamond recess to gablehead over shallow, round-arched, multi-moulded doorpiece with flanking nookshafts in bay 3; 2-leaf, boarded doors with decorative strapwork hinges; window in each remaining bay to left. Window in each bay to nave clerestory above. 2, evenly disposed, gabletted boarded roof-access doors behind parapet.
S (SIDE) ELEVATION: 15-bay, grouped 8-1-1-5, from left. Single-bay, 4-stage, gabled transept offset to right of centre. Round-arched, multi-moulded doorpiece with flanking nookshafts at ground; 2-leaf boarded doors with decorative strapwork hinges; window at stages 2 and 3; large rose window at 4th stage; large oculus to gablehead above; window at each floor with small window flanking to right in left return; single-bay gabled (gablehead window to E) chapel with window in S and E elevations. 5-bay group to right: single nook shaft to pointed-arched doorpiece at ground in bay to centre; boarded door; round arch spanning 2-light window; window in each remaining aisle bay; window in each clerestory nave bay; gabletted, boarded roof-access door behind blocking course, set to left above. 8-bay group to left: trapezoidal-headed doorpiece with flanking nook-shafts and boarded door at ground in bay 3 from left; narrow, trefoil-headed window in bays 1 and 2 from; window in each remaining aisle bay; window in each bay to nave clerestory; 2, evenly disposed gabletted boarded roof-access doors behind parapet above.
Stained glass, leaded windows with stone mullions, transoms and traceried astragals. traditional, graded stone tiled roof; stone ridges; stone skews and copes; cast-iron rainwater goods.
INTERIOR: cylindrical columns supporting round-arched, 8-bay colonnaded nave; round-arched triforium below clerestory; ribbed, vaulted nave ceiling; ribbed, vaulted aisles flanking, (interlaced Norman blind arcade to south aisle and transepts); similar 6-bay choir (earlier in date, see Notes) and chancel with ribbed, vaulted aisles; timber barrel vaulted transepts; chapel projections to E from each transept division; interlaced Norman blind arcade around N, S, and W sides of transept; wide stone turnpike stairwells to NW and SW angles of transept giving access to upper levels; mural passages around triforium and clerestory; smaller stone turnpike stairwells to each angle of tower; timber panelled and intricately carved vestibule, W end entrance door surrounds and side door surrounds; similar timber octagonal pulpit to NE pier at crossing; oversailing octagonal sounding board with pinnacled cresting; timber panelled, intricately carved and pierced, stepped rood screen with various statues and central crucifix across chancel; similarly carved and pierced screens spanning choir aisles; carved timber choir stalls with terminal angels and various heads to seat dividers; nave and walls mounted with numerous medieval and later tombstones; 14th century arched tomb with tall pediment over to south aisle of nave; various statues including 16th century effigies of St Magnus, the Norwegian King Olaf and John Rae, Arctic explorer, (died, 1893); original stone mercat cross, dated 1621, (see Notes); stained glass, leaded windows.
GRAVEYARD: containing variety of wall-mounted and free-standing headstones, obelisks and raised stone sarcophagi; variety of dates including 17th 18th and 19th centuries.
BOUNDARY WALLS AND RAILINGS: roughly coursed rubble walls with ridged ashlar cope; regularly disposed wide, coped piers; replacement cast-iron railings with regular fleur-de-lys-headed shafts.
WAR MEMORIAL: 1923: single nook shafts to moulded round-arched gateway to graveyard to NW; integral flanking shouldered piers bearing World War I dates within wreaths over names of deceased; stepped pediment above with inscription surmounted by angel statue; later detached square-plan capped piers flanking with World War II dates within wreaths over names of deceased; 2-leaf wrought- and cast-iron gates.
Statement of Special Interest
Ecclesiastical building in use as such. One of the most important cathedrals in Scotland comprising some of 'the finest Romanesque work north of Durham' (RCAHMS). Indeed, comparison with Durham and Dunfermline would suggest that English stonemasons had travelled north to lend their skills to this Norwegian project. The impetus to build a cathedral began circa 1117 when Magnus, the man to whom it is dedicated, was murdered on Egilsay by his cousin Hakon, with whom he shared the earldom of Orkney. Earl Rognvald, the son of Magnus' sister, who was seeking control of Orkney, vowed to build 'a stone minster at Kirkwall more magnificent than any in Orkney' which would hold the relics of his sainted uncle, if he succeeded. An extensive period of construction started in 1137 and, as work continued over many years, architectural fashion shifted and styles changed. Although a mixture of styles can easily be detected throughout the building, the overall concept remained constant and the result is homogenous. The first parts of the building to be constructed were the present choir with its aisles, the crossing, the transepts and 2 bays of the nave, forming a small cruciform core, all displaying the typical round arches of the Norman style. The nave was then continued westwards for several bays and then again even later, the west front being one of the latest parts of the cathedral, not finished until the 15th century. The crossing was subsequently stylistically updated around 1200, the nave and aisle walls were heightened. There are many noteworthy parts of the building, the 3 west doorways and the one in the south transept are especially remarkable. They represent, 'probably the finest examples in Great Britain of the use of coloured stones in construction...and are still amongst the most charming portions so the edifice', (RCAHMS). The contrasting red and yellow stone are arranged in moulded, pointed arches over doors in bands, concentric rings and checkerwise. Apart from the outstanding masonry the Cathedral also contains some pieces of 17th century woodwork, now incorporated in 20th century furnishings, mostly undertaken by George Mackie Watson 1913-30; the communion table, pulpit and lectern in the St Rognavald Chapel all incorporate 16th/17th century panels. More recent furnishings were designed by Stanley Cursiter and executed by Reynold Eunson. Prior to the 19th century when the interior was completely whitewashed, the walls were decorated in formal red and black designs, only a portion of which now remains. The rose windows at the east end and in the south transept are worthy of note, the latter re-constructed as late as the 19th century. The vivid stained glass of the west window was designed by Crear McCartney in 1987 to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the founding of the Cathedral. The tower dates from the early 14th century and provides a bold centrepiece to the design. It contains 4 bells, cast in Edinburgh in 1528, 3 of which were gifted by Bishop Maxwell. The largest was re-cast in 1682 after falling to the ground when the tower was stuck by lightning in 1671. The original spire was replaced at first by a timber pyramidal roof and then, in 1916, by the present copper-covered spire. Along with the many tombs, statues and edifices in the Cathedral, which commemorate some of Orkney's most important personages and events, can be found the original stone burgh mercat cross which initially stood on the green in front of the Cathedral, but is now replaced by a replica. The Cathedral fell into a state of disrepair in the early part of the 19th century and the government, under the belief that it was Crown property, restored it by 1848. In 1851 the Town Council reclaimed the Cathedral which continues to be vested in the Orkney Islands Council.