The Romanesque church on the Brough
o' 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.
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.
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.
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
This structure may have been a square tower, but evidence
of this in inconclusive. It may be that the tower was started but
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.
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 o' Birsay was the
Christ's Kirk (or Christchurch) of the sagas - the burial place of
Earl Magnus after his murder on
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