Face of Orkney’s St Magnus revealed ahead of festival
A facial reconstruction has been made of Orkney’s St Magnus to help mark the 900th anniversary of his death.
Forensic artist Hew Morrison’s research included studies of photographs taken in the 1920s of what is said to be the skull of the 12th century Norse earl. Mr Morrison hopes his work on St Magnus (below) will be displayed during the Magnus festival which will mark the anniversary of his death this Summer and includes a special Catholic pilgrimage.
St Magnus’ life and death are a feature of the Orkneyinga Saga, which tells the story of Orkney’s early history.
The saga says St Magnus, the earl of Orkney, was betrayed and murdered by his brother Hakon. Miracles were said to have happened where St Magnus was buried, including rocky ground changing into a grassy field.
Centuries later, in 1919, a wooden box with a skull showing a wound and an assortment of bones inside was discovered during renovations to St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall on Orkney. A University of Aberdeen professor and an Aberdeen church minister examined the bones and determined that they must be Magnus’ remains. The relics were later interred in a pillar of the cathedral.
Mr Morrison said he first heard the story of the bones when he was a boy.
“I had forgotten about it until I visited Orkney back in 2015 whilst working on another facial reconstruction project,” he said. “Understanding that the bones are permanently inside a pillar of the cathedral, thus inaccessible, I wondered whether there had ever been decent enough photographs taken of the remains that could be used to recreate a two-dimensional facial reconstruction.
“I managed to track down through Orkney Archives excellent photographs taken in 1925 that were suitable to use,” he went on. ‘Taking into regard St Magnus’ Scandinavian ancestry, light-coloured hair and blue eyes were added to the face.”
Orkney will hold a special festival to mark the anniversary of St Magnus’ death this June. During it Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen will lead a pilgrimage to the islands from June 28-30.
“Orkney is celebrating the 900th anniversary of its martyr for peace, Earl Magnus, a layman, a Norseman, a key figure in the Christianisation of the northern edges of Europe,” the bishop said. “Enthusiasm is growing. At a time when there is often a deadly deficit of peace and reconciliation, this pilgrimage will be a moment to celebrate and embody those very values.”
For more information visit www.stmagnusfestival.com
—This story ran in full in the February 10 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.