St Magnus

Press/Media: Research


Interviewed as part of Sacred Islands series 2, episode 3, on the Cult of St Magnus in Orkney, the impact of the Norse on the Christianisation of Orkney, the creation of the St Magnus Way and the continued significance of St Magnus today. 

Pre-programme research consultant, advising on programme content in relation to the Norse/St Magnus/pilgrimage matieral. 

Period6 Nov 2023

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleSacred Islands Series 2 Episode 3
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletTern Television Productions
    Media typeTelevision
    Duration/Length/SizeProgramme length 1 hour
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionCrossing the infamously wild Pentland Firth in blessedly calm conditions, Ben Fogle heads for the Orkney Isles.

    Orkney has seen a diverse range of faiths for over 5,000 years. From the awesome ceremonial stone circle and the Ring of Brodgar, to pagan Vikings, the islands didn’t embrace Christianity until the late tenth century. Wanting to investigate what remains of Orkney’s Norse identity, Ben takes to the water in a traditional Viking yole sailboat with proud local Maurice Davidson. He learns how Norse place names still dot the coastline and that, although a wanderlust spirit is part of the islanders’ character, they are nearly always drawn back.

    Orkney has its own distinct Norse Christian saint, Magnus, and Ben meets with Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon at Aikerness Bay to learn out about the significance of Magnus to these islands. He discovers that the saint’s legacy has inspired a modern pilgrimage route across Orkney’s Mainland, and how this landscape offers people time and space to contemplate.

    Inspired by the idea of modern pilgrimage, Ben takes the short ferry trip across to the tiny Isle of Shapinsay in the company of the Reverend Julia Meason, minister to the island’s 350 inhabitants. Originally from Poland, Julia came to Orkney intending to stay only two months, but she is still here 12 years later. Julia’s husband, Kenny, takes Ben to a stunning rocky promontory, a place he describes as his church.

    Ben drops into Stromness Men’s Shed, an organisation dedicated to combating male loneliness. Then it's on to the island of Lamb Holm, where Ben visits the extraordinary Italian Chapel. Built by Italian prisoners during World War II, the chapel is a stunning work of art. Here, he encounters art restorer Antonella Papa, who normally works on sacred sites such as the Sistine Chapel, but has been coming to Orkney to conserve her countrymen’s shrine since 2015.

    Continuing to learn about Orkney’s appeal, Ben catches up with Theo Ogbhemhe. Originally from Nigeria, Theo came to Orkney to teach and now considers the island chain his spiritual home. They discuss how, today, people are looking for something within, and that Orkney offers the space to do that.

    Ben’s time on these islands ends at the most northerly cathedral in the UK, St Magnus, where he investigates the mystery of the saint’s bones. Climbing to the top of the cathedral’s spire, he discovers more about the allure of modern pilgrimage and Orkney’s extraordinary international appeal.
    Producer/AuthorKaty Chapman
    PersonsSarah Jane Gibbon


  • Historical Archaeology
  • Landscape archaeology
  • Medieval Orkney
  • Pilgrimage
  • Orkneyinga Saga
  • Orkney-Norway connections