Brough Of Birsay (Island) This tidal island lying just offshore from the north-western point of Mainland has important remains of Pictish and Norse settlements. The island can be reached On foot at low tide across a causeway.
For times of low tide apply to the local tourist offices in Stromness or Kirkwslt. The earliest remains are houses and metalworking debris of the Pictish period. Recent archaeological excavations have thrown much doubt on the original interpretation of the remains as a monastery. The site includes a fine Pictish symbol stone replica. Norse occupation. - In the 1 OC and 11 C Norsemen lived on the Brough and a group of farmsteads marks this period. The Norse Earls (Jarls) of Orkney, made Birsay one of their principal seats in Orkney.
Earl Thorfinn the Mighty (cl009·65), on his return from a pilgrimage to Rome, built a church either on the Brough or in Birsay village.
Was the church on the Brough the Christchurch of the Orkneyinga Saga In the early 12C it is likely there was a Norse monastery on the Brough. Thorf'inn's church became the cathedral of Orkney and this was the initial resting place of St Magnus. His holy relics remained enshrined here for over twenty years before Bishop William finally had them translated to Kirkwall. In the mid-12C the new church in Kirkwall took over the functions of cathedral.
- Birsay Geolocation Latitude 59.1327° N Longitude -3.2974° W
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The church on the Brough continued to be visited throughout the medieval period but eventually fell into ruin. The church on the Brough has a small oblong nave, short narrow choir and rounded apse. It is unlikely to date from before the early 12C. The church is set within an enclosure representing the Norse graveyard.
Both Pictish and Norse graves have been uncovered. An important example of the former is the Birsay Stone (replica) portraying three armed warriors. On the far side (to the north) of the church are the domestic buildings of the priests, in three ranges enclosing a courtyard. Norse long houses. - To the southwest and higher up the slope are typical Norse houses with the living quarters at the upper end and byre lower down. The walls had cores of turf. Between the church and the cliff (to the east) are the complex remains of Norse buildings of various periods, some of which have been thought to represent Earl Thorfinns palace. Site museum. - Display of objects found during excavations.