The Origins and Early Development of the Parochial System in the Orkney Earldom

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


The thesis uses a landscape history approach, drawing on existing records and
augmenting these with extensive observations in the field, towards understanding the location and context of ecclesiastical sites and parish boundaries in Orkney. An historiographical assessment of previous work, and of the evidence on which it was based, prefaces the detailed re-examination of the individual chapel sites in their landscape setting. The patterns that emerge from this study are compared with selected examples in Shetland and Caithness, and related to the wider European context. The present study significantly places parish formation in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, whereas the established view had held that the parishes originated in an early pre-Norse context. The chronology suggested is an initial period of private chapel building within
districts definable as settlement areas, from the middle to late eleventh century, leading from the middle twelfth century onwards to the definition of parishes and designation or foundation of parish churches. The designation of parish churches and creation of parishes is seen as a direct result of the imposition of tithe. Certain pre-parochial churches of higher status may have administered a form of pastoral care in larger preparochial units. By examining the chapels in their settlement context, the extent of several of these larger units has been postulated.
Date of Award9 Aug 2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorRaymond Lamb (Supervisor), Barbara Crawford (Supervisor) & Jane Downes (Supervisor)

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