The mystery of the three kirks uncovered

Shetland Amenity Trust have been working on a project to uncover the mystery of ‘the three kirks’ and they are now ready to share their findings. The Trust’s team at the Shetland Museum and Archives have discovered that three ancient church sites in Shetland were built from stone that does in fact originate from Orkney. Legend has it that these kirks were gifted to Shetland by three Norwegian sisters and have a key role to play in the Orkneyinga saga.

St Magnus Kirk, Egilsay, Orkney

The team at the Shetland Museum and Archives are now ready to present the results of their research through a new exhibition and a specialist talk. ‘The Three Sisters Kirks’ is a new display highlighting the latest research undertaken by museum staff, which has proven a direct link between three 12th century towered kirks in Shetland and St. Magnus cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

The exhibition will highlight important research recently undertaken by Curator Jenny Murray in a joint project with local geologist Allen Fraser. They have used science to prove that red sandstone built into the local three kirks was brought here from Orkney quarries, around the same time as the cathedral was being built by Earl Rognvald to house the relics of his uncle, Saint Magnus.

Artists impression of how the Papil Kirk may have looked

Jenny Murray, Curator of the exhibition explains, “This exhibition is all about colour. The vivid red sandstone used in the towers of our three medieval kirks would have stood proud in the landscape – both a visual and spiritual beacon for the local community, who came to worship and gain healing with the help of St Magnus. We have gathered together a range of artefacts, some of which have never been on display before, to highlight a tangible link to the cathedral in Kirkwall, offering us a new chapter in Shetland’s ecclesiastical story.”

The exhibition includes church furniture made of red Orcadian sandstone, including a piscina on loan from Papil in Burra, and a small portable alter from Eshaness. There is also a very special loan from Kirkwall cathedral which has never been in Shetland before. A beautiful hand-woven altar cloth inspired by the research and made by The Shetland Tweed Company using local wool kindly sponsored by Jamieson’s of Sandness, adds another colourful dimension to this unique exhibition.

A talk by Allen Fraser and Jenny Murray on the project, exhibition and research will take place at the Shetland Museum and Archives on Thursday 26th September at 7pm. The exhibition opens on Wednesday 18th September in the Early Peoples section and runs until September next year. You can also find out more on the project through Jenny’s blog.

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