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    Children illuminate St Magnus’s life in Kirkwall Cathedral

     

    St Magnus Cathedral western front central doorway  © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral western front central doorway © 2012 Scotiana

     

    Hi everybody,

    Did you read my last post about St Magnus Cathedral? This beautiful pink and white sandstone church is situated in the heart of Kirkwall, the capital city of Orkney.

    Look! The door is open… let’s go inside, for the cathedral has a very interesting story to tell. Many old churches have their little secrets but if you don’t pay close attention when you visit them, you’ll never know. Here, in Kirkwall, the cathedral is dedicated  to Saint Magnus and once you’ve visited it, even if you have not read the Orkneyinga Saga nor any book about the history of the cathedral, the story of Saint Magnus will have no more secrets for you.  It is  a long story which began more than eight centuries ago at a time when the Orkney islands were ruled by earls. The cathedral is dedicated to  the most famous of them, who became a saint and indeed the patron saint of Orkney.

    But what can make this story so unforgettable, you may ask?

     

    Collection of painted panels in St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana

    Collection of painted panels in St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana

    Here’s the answer:

    Mounted on the organ screen, in the dark choir of the cathedral, you suddenly fall on this extraordinary collection of painted panels which is composed of fourteen very lively and colourful scenes.  But what makes them unique and particularly moving is that these panels have been  painted by children. Yes, fifteen children, aged thirteen,  from the Isle of Arran.  This marvellous work of art was given to the people of Orkney on June 10th 1980 as a tribute to the St Magnus Festival.

    Let us try to know more…

    The first scene of the story is situated on the left at the bottom of the panel, the second one on the right, the third one on the left and so on. In the middle of the big panel there is a description of the different scenes, and I’ve transcribed each of them to put under the corresponding picture.

    Today, I will begin with the first seven scenes which depict the events surrounding the martyrdom of St Magnus.

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels 'Battle of the Menais Strait' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels ‘Battle of the Menais Strait’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene I: Battle of the Menais Strait

    ‘Magnus Erlendson  in a battle against the Welsh, refuses to fight, and in answer to the fury of King Magnus Bareknees replies that he has no quarrel with anyone there. That night he escapes from the ship and doesn’t return to Orkney until the King dies.’

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels 'divided loyalties' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels ‘Divided loyalties’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene 2: Divided Loyalties

    ‘Earl Magnus and Earl Hakon become joint rulers of Orkney. Peace is broken between the cousins because of the malice of Hakon’s evil friends. Noblemen arrange a treaty and Magnus agrees to a meeting in Egilsay, while Hakon plans treachery.’

     

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels  Magnus sets sail for Egilsay © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels ‘Magnus sets sail for Egilsay’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene 3: Magnus sets sail for Egilsay

    ‘At Easter time Magnus chooses his best friends to go with him to Egilsay. They are unarmed and have just two ships. From a calm sea, a huge wave rises and crashes down at the feet or Earl Magnus, who views it as a very bad omen.’

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels 'Magnus is betrayed' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels ‘Magnus is betrayed’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene 4: Magnus is betrayed

    ‘From Egilsay Magnus sees Hakon approaching with eight ships of fully armed men. Hakon will trap and kill his cousin and thereby become sole ruler of Orkney. His friends loudly approve the plan.’

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels  'Magnus prays alone' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels ‘Magnus prays alone’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene 5: Magnus prays alone

    ‘Night falls on Egilsay. Hakon waits. Alone, Magnus prays all night in the church. He has sent away all his men except two. At dawn, Earl Magnus walks down to the beach where Hakon’s men descend with shouts, spears and swords.’

    St Magnus Cathedral Painted panel 'Hakons decision and Lifolf' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral Painted panel ‘Hakons decision and Lifolf’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Scene 6: Hakon’s decision and Lifolf

    ‘Magnus is brought face to face with Hakon, and dissuades his cousin from his plan of murder. But Hakon’s men will not see their prey escape and they threaten Hakon himself. So, forced to proceed with his plans, Hakon selects his cook Lifolf to murder Earl Magnus.’

     

    Orkney Kirkwall St Magnus cathedral painted panel 'Martyrdom of St Magnus' © 2012 Scotiana

    Painted panel ‘Martyrdom of St Magnus’ © 2012 Scotiana

     Scene 7: Martyrdom of St Magnus

    ‘Earl Magnus forgives Lifolf because he is only obeying orders. With a cheerful countenance he prays once more, then kneels to receive the blow from the axe. The place of the killing was stony, but it soon changes to green grass and flowers.’

    I definitely love these painted panels. They are quite moving and the expression of young talented artists inspired by the legendary tale which appears in the Orkneyinga Saga (archeological discoveries prove that there is truth in it)!

    Notice the omnipresence of animals in the different scenes of the mural ;-), the red and black colours (red for Magnus and black for Hakon), the rich celtic style of the ornamentation, the mythical dimension, the viking drakkar, the standing stones, the church of Egilsay, the broch… everything is there, big things and little things, firing our imagination!

    And look at the different kinds of expression of the people and of Magnus’ s dog.  😉

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels detail dog 1 © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels – Detail dog 1 © 2012 Scotiana

    The faithful and confident dog …

     

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels detail dog 2 © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panels -Detail dog 2 © 2012 Scotiana

    The angry dog barking at Lifolf…

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panel 'Magnus of Fame'  © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral painted panel ‘Magnus of Fame’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Well done! Congratulations and many thanks to the talented children of Arran and their teacher for such a beautiful work of art! They must be grown-ups now but I’m pretty sure they have not forgotten the time when they created such a marvellous artistic work.

    Bonne lecture!

    Don’t miss my next post for I will tell you about the last seven panels which are about the construction of the cathedral by St Rognvald, the nephew of St Magnus.

    A bientôt!

    Mairiuna

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