About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  The Brough of Birsay

The Kirk

The Romanesque church on the Brough of Birsay is by far the best-preserved building on the island.

Its walls survive high enough to allow the visitor to get a good impression of how the building looked when it was in use on the Brough. Dating from around 1100AD, the nave, chancel and apse are still clearly recognisable.

The rectangular nave, the main body of the church, still incorporates a stone bench running around the walls - a bench that would have seated those attending the services.

Picture Sigurd Towrie

From the nave, a stone step leads through a doorway to the chancel in the eastern end of the building. This small, square room contains the church's altar, although this was reconstructed in the 1930s and may originally have stood in the adjacent apse.

The apse is a semicircular structure attached to the chancel, very similar in design and construction to the Orphir Round Kirk.

The kirkyard

Surrounding the entire church is a stone wall that demarcates the area of the churchyard. This area was used for burials, with a number of stone covered graves still clearly visible to the south of the building.

The Pictish symbol stone was found in this churchyard, directly to the west of the church building.

Foundation remains to the south of the church nave have been interpreted as an earlier church, but there is no evidence to confirm this.

An incompleted tower?

Although nothing survives today, stones jutting from the west wall of the kirk seem to indicate that another structure once stood there, bonded into the fabric of the church.

Illustration Sigurd TowrieThis structure may have been a square tower, but evidence of this in inconclusive. It may be that the tower was started but never completed.

The lack of medieval finds on the site has led to the conclusion that the church, and adjacent monastery, only remained in use for a short time.

The construction of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, and the resultant shift of ecclesiastic power away from Birsay could be the reason the site's importance waned.

Was Christ's Kirk on the Brough?

There has been much speculation over the years as to whether the church on The Brough of Birsay was the Christ's Kirk (or Christchurch) of the sagas - the burial place of Earl Magnus after his murder on Egilsay.

This seems unlikely, however, as the Place - the current Birsay village - once contained a considerable medieval church "grander than any other church in Orkney with the exception of only St Magnus Cathedral".

Picture Sigurd Towrie

Section Contents
See Also

External Links

Back a page