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  St Olaf's Kirk, Kirkwall

St Olaf's Kirk: Photograph by Sigurd TowriePerhaps one of the most significant historical sites in the town of Kirkwall is also the least known.

Hundreds of people walk past the remains of the St Olaf Kirk daily, the majority of them entirely unaware of its existence and place in the development of the town.

Little remains of the kirk these days, merely a stone archway of cut sandstone found up a lane in the heart of old Kirkwall, a short distance from the harbour.

Founded sometime after 1035, the little church of St Olaf is possibly the original kirk from which Kirkwall took its name - Kirkjuvagr being the Old Norse name meaning "church bay".

The church was built by Earl Rognvald Brusison who dedicated it to his foster-father, King Olaf Haraldson of Norway. King Olaf was a converted Christian who had died in 1030, at the battle of Sticklastadt.

At this time, Kirkwall was nothing more than two irregular rows of houses. One row spreading from east to west along the shore, the other running southwards at right angles to the sea front and facing the Oyce - the area of water now known as the Peedie Sea.

St Olaf's Kirk was then the southernmost building in Kirkwall and attached to an area of consecrated ground that extended to the Papdale burn.

When the remains of St Magnus were moved from Christchurch in Birsay and brought to Kirkwall, it is likely that upon their arrival they were housed within St Olaf's Kirk until the Cathedral, which was under construction, was ready to take them.

See Also

In the 1970s a hogback tombstone was found on the site of the original churchyard.

In recent years, workers relaying the flagstones at the opening of the Wynd revealed human remains just below the surface.

These were left and will probably lie undisturbed for another millennium.

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