St Magnus Church, Egilsay

  • Egilsay, Orkney



According to the sagas, Earl Magnus travelled to Egilsay in about 1116 to confront a rival earl, Hakon, about who should have control of Orkney. The meeting didn’t go well: it ended in the murder of Magnus.

Bishop William of Orkney recognised Magnus’ sanctity 20 years later, in 1136, and made him a saint. St Magnus Church was likely built soon after that, on the spot where Magnus’ murder is said to have taken place.

A remarkable sight

The ruin today is, after St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the finest surviving Norse church in Scotland, testimony to the wealth and authority of Orkney’s Norse rulers. It stands remarkably complete in three parts:

  • a chancel to the east
  • a central nave
  • the distinctive round tower to the west

The tower was originally at least 4m taller than it is today, and comprised five floors. Its design has architectural parallels in north Germany and around the North Sea, demonstrating the far-flung contacts of the Orkney earldom.

The church’s chancel housed the altar. Above the altar was a room that probably served as a treasury and sacristy. The nave, where islanders and pilgrims stood or knelt during services, was covered by a high-pitched roof.

Opening times

Due to access restrictions in place as a precautionary measure while we undertake high level masonry inspections, there is currently no visitor access to the church and some headstones. Majority of graveyard is accessible.

Historic Scotland


Download our visitor app

Discover more on the go – the Historic Scotland app lets you find out about Scotland’s most iconic places wherever you are.

Plan your visit

More than 20 of our sites are now open. Please book your tickets in advance.

Become a member

Join Historic Scotland to visit our properties free of charge for a full year and support our work at the same time.

Hire a site for filming

Use one of our fantastic locations on your next shoot for an awe-inspiring backdrop to your work.

Learning visits

Our 300+ historic places serve as creative inspiration for all sorts of learning activities – and for learners of all ages.

Search our events

See the past brought to life by the imaginative year-round programme of events at our properties.