Brough Of Birsay

Chapel, Settlement

Site Name Brough Of Birsay

Classification Chapel, Settlement

Alternative Name(s) St Peter's Chapel; St Peter's Monastery

Canmore ID 1796

Site Number HY22NW 1

NGR HY 23977 28513

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Birsay And Harray
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY22NW 1.00 23977 28513

HY22NW 1.01 HY 2398 2850 Pictish Symbol Stone

HY22NW 1.02 HY 2399 2850 Cross-slabs

(HY 239 285) St Peter's Chapel (NR) (Remains of) Burial Ground (NR)

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1900).

The first settlement on this site was a possibly 6th century Celtic monastic establishment, the chapel, grave-yard (beneath that of the later Norse settlement), and enclosing wall of which have been identified by Radford. The name of St Columba or St Colm has been associated with the site, but on no very good authority.

This was followed by early 9th century Viking farmsteads which had developed into a Norse settlement by the middle of the 11th century, when, according to Radford, the famous 'Christ Church' of Earl Thorfinn - the first Norse Christian church in Orkney - was erected, on the site of the Celtic chapel (but see HY22NW 8). Radford also believes that he has located Earl Thorfinn's Hall.

The foundation date of the early 12th century Cathedral (traditionally dedicated to St Peter) is not known, but it was superseded by the erection of Kirkwall Cathedral in the mid-12th century. However, the contemporary Bishop's Palace, to the north of the cathedral, remained in use at least until the 14th century (by the 16th century the bishops were apparently using a house on the mainland.)

The cathedral probably remained in use as a parish church until the erection of a successor on the mainland (HY22NW 8), possibly in the 13th century: it was a place of pilgrimage until the Reformation.

C A Ralegh Radford 1959; RCAHMS 1946; C A Ralegh Radford 1962.

As described by the above authorities.

Surveyed at 1/2500

Visited by OS(RL) 25 May 1967.

There are Viking houses along the cliff edge (between HY 2367 2827 and HY 2399 2846).

Information taken from Orkney Survey of 1960 [On an annotated map by Wainwright in the possession of MOPBW (now Historic Scotland)].

Group of bobble-headed pins.

L Laing and J Laing 1986.

Winter storms in January 1993 exposed walling and occupation debris in the cliff-face immediately to the N of the entrance to the Brough of Birsay. Photography, cleaning and recording of the exposed section, and limited excavation of damaged areas took place in July 1993. Eleven periods of activity were noted, with at least three seperated phases of wall-construction below the extant consolidated walls. The sequences appear to be broadly similar to those recorded below Room 5 in 1973-4. Occupation and/or midden deposits included much mammal bone and shell, and these were sampled as fully as possible within the parameters of the exercise. There was little artefactual material recovered. Sponsor: Historic Scotland

C D Morris 1993

Class I symbol stone with mirror case and to its left a crescent and V-rod above an elephant and an eagle.

A Mack 1997.


Field Visit (25 May 1967)

As described by the above authorities.

Surveyed at 1/2500

Visited by OS(RL) 25 May 1967.

Orkney Smr Note

The group of Viking Buildings consists of an intricate arrangement of thirteen compartments with passages and small courts covering an area of approx 100ft square. The walls area an average height of about 2ft and vary considerably in thickness. The compartments range in size from 12ft x 11ft to 25ft x 12ft and were presumably covered with thatched roofs. RCAHMS 1946 pp1-5 and 7

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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