Virtual Vault Rev James Wallace's Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1684 (MS)
Chapter 9


Chapter 9th
The Ancient & Present
State off the Church
off Orkney

The church of this Countrey as also that of Zetland is under the Government of one Bishop, Stiled Bishop of Orkney & Zetland. His rent was great before, but att present itt will Amount to litle more then 8000 merks, Chamberlanes & other officers fees being peyed.

The Cathedrall Curch is St Magnus kirk in kirkwall (off which I have sett doun the figure in the former page) itt wes founded (as is thought) by St Magnus k. of Norway, but afterwards greatlie enlairged by some of the pious Bishops of that sea for Bbishop Stewart enlairged itt to the east all above the Grees, and Bishop Reid three pillars to the west.  Its as beautifull statlie a structure as is in the Kingdom, built Croswise, with estler [3] work, and standing upon pillars all Curiouslie pended [4] : the three gates by which they entred into itt being checkered with reed & white polished stons, embossed & floured in a comelie way.  And the steiple elevated to a great hight (standing one four statlie pillars) in which is a sett of as excellent & sweetlie chimed Bells as is in anie Catherdrall in the Kingdom.  In the year  1670 the Pyramide of the                                                            steiple


Steiple being covered with timber wes burnt with a thunder bolt but by the industrie of our present Bishop, & liberalitie of some Charitable persons, is again repaired and the Biggest Bell (which hed gott a rift by the fall which itt gott at the Burning of the steiple) is  refounded & cast over again att Holland.

Besid the Cathedrall, there are threttie one kirks more in this countrey wherein divyn service is celebrated as also a great manie Ancient Chappels, above ane hundred in number, which shews that this Countrey wes no less ancientlie then itt is att present addicted to devotion.

This Diocese had, as all other weel ordered Churches have their severall ancient dignities and Proviledges for a long tyme.  But these (by the iniquitie of the times and the constant truble that this Countrey wes in by the cheange off Masters) being greatlie lessened and deteriorated Bishop Robert Reid made a new erection and fundation of the chapter viz. Seven dignities, whereof the first wes a Provost, to whom under the Bishop, the correction & amendment of the Channons, Prebendars & Chaplains wes to belong.  He had alloted to him the Prebendarie of holie Trinitie & viccarage off Southronalsha with the mantenance off the Kirk of Burra.  2 ane Archdeacon who wes to govern the people according to the disposition of the Canon Law: And to him wes alloted the Archdeans ancient rights, the viccarage of Birsa & chaplanrie of St Ola within the Cathedrall kirk of Kirkwall togither with the sustentation of the kirk of Harra3  a Precentor, who wes to rule the singers in the Quire in the                                                                         eleva

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elevation or depression of their songs: And to him wes allotted the prebandarie of Orphir and viccarage of Stennis4  a Chancellor, who wes to be learned in both laws, and bound to read in the Pontifical Law publicklie in the Chapter to allthat ought to be present: and to look to the  preserving and mending the books of the Quire and Register and to keep the Comon seall and key of the Librarie : to him wes alloted the Prebendrie of St Marie in Sanda & viccarage of Sanda.  5  a Treasurer, who wes to keep the treasure of the church and sacred vestments & to have a caire of the Bread wyne, wax, oile & nourishment for the lights of the kirk.  To him wes allotted the Rectorie of St Nicholas in  Stronsa and viccarage of Stronsa.  a Subdean who wes to Supplie ye place of the Provost in his absence, for the amending of the defects of the Chapter and to exercise the office of a Butler to the Bishop.  To him wes allotted the parsonage of Hoy and viccarage of Waes,  7 a Subchanter, who wes bound to play upon the Organs each Lords day and festival day, and to supplie the place off the Chanter in his absence : to him wes allotted the Prebendrie off St Colme.

Likewise he erected seven other Channons & Prebands to witt, the Prebendrie of Holie Cross, to whom wes given the parsonage of Crosskirk in Sanda : he wes to be a speciall keeper of holie things under the Treasurer, and wes to have a caire of the Knock [5] and ringing of the Bells all hours appoynted; and to have a caire of the floor off the kirk wes cleanlie swept.   The prebendar of St Marie, to whom wes given the Chaplanrie of St Marie and viccarage of Evie: he wes to have a caire off the roof and            win

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windows of the Cathedrall, to have them helped iff need wer.  3  The Prebendar of St Magnus: he wes to be Confessor of the houshold of the Bishop, Provost, Channons, Chaplains & their servants in the tyme of Easter & to administer the holie Bodie of Christ to them.  4 Prebendar wes to have the Chaplanie of St John the Evangelist in the said Cathedrall kirk.  The 5 Prebendar wes to have the Chaplanrie of St Laurence.  The 6 Prebendar wes to have the prebendrie of St Catherin.  The 7 Prebendar wes to have the Prebendar of  St Duthas.  To which seven dignities and seven Prebendries he moreover assigned and allotted (beide the former kirks and teiths) the rents and revenenes of the parsonages of St Colme in Waes and of holie cross in westra ; as also the viccarages of the parish Churches of Sandwick and Stromness with their pertinents, for their dailie distributions.  Beside these he erected thretten Chaplains.  To the first wes alloted the chaplanrie of St Peterand he wes to be master of the Grammar School.  To the second wes allotted the Chaplanrie off St Augustin and he wes to master of the Song School.  The third wes to be stallarius, or the Bishops Quirister.  The fourth the Provost quirister.  The fifth the Archdeacons.  The sixth the Precentors.  The seventh the Chancelors.  The eight the Treasurers.  The ninth the Subdeans.  The tenth the Prebendors off holie Cross.  The eleventh the Prebanders off St Marie.  The tuelfth the chaplains of St Cathrine.  The threeteenth the Chaplains of holie Cross.  Everie one of which quiristers wer to have one Last of victuall & ten marks of money for their                         sti

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Stipend yearlie besyde their dailie distributions, which wer to be raised from the rents of the viccarage of the cathedrall kirk and from the fundation of Thomas Bishop of Orkney, and off the tuelve pounds mortified be king the 3 and James the 4th kings of Scotland.  The office of which quiristers wes to sing mass morning and evening by turns to which are added a Sacrist who wes to ring the Bells and light the lamps and carie in water and fire to the church, and to goe before the procession with a white wand after the manner of a Bedell and for this he wes to have the accustomed revenew, togither with fourtie shilling fro the Bishop yearlie.

Moreover he ordained Six Boys, who wer to be taper bearers, and to sing the responsories and verses in the Quire as they wer to be ordered be the Chantor.  Off which Six Boyes on wes to be nominate & sustained be the Bishop:  the second be the Prebendar of St Magnus: the third be the prebendar of St John.  The fourth be the Prebendar of St Laurence.  The fifth be the prebendar of St Catheri.  The sixth be the Prebendar of St Duthus.  And evrie on of them, besyde their mantenance, wes to have 20 shilling Scotts a year.

Moreover to everie one of the foresaid Provost, dignities, Channons & Prebendars he assigned certain lands in Kirkwall for their manses.  The Charter of this erection is dated at Kirkwall october 28 Anno 1544.  And in the following year itt wes confirmed by another Charter granted be David Beaton Cardinall of St Stephen in mount Celio, Presbyter of the Church of Rome and                                                         Arch

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Archbishop of St Andrews, haveing  Apostolick authoritie so to doe.  Itt is dated at Stirling the last of June an eleventh year of Pope Paul the third. And confirmed be  Q. Marie at Edinburgh, the last of Aprile Anno Regni 13th.

In this Condition the Church continued as long as Poprie stood; But the Reformation Comeing in, and Robert Stewart Earle of Orkney (haveing obtained the Bishopric from bishop Bothwell, by the exchange of ye Abbacie of Holierood house) becam sole Lord of the whol Countrey.  Whereupon itt cam to pass that he and his son Earle Patrick who succeeded him did in the church as they pleased, for Episcopall Constitutions wer not much regarded in those dayes.

At last James Law being made Bishop of Orkney, and the Earldom united to the Croun by the death and forfeiture of the forsaid Patrick Stewart; He with the consent off his Chapter made this Contract with king James the Sixth of Blessed memorie: In which the[y] resigne to the king and his successors all their Ecclesiastick Lands & possessions, with all rights and securities belonging yrto to be incorporate and united to the Croun: especiallie such as should be thought necessar to be united to itt.  And the king gives back and dispones to the Bishop Severall lands in the parishes of Ham, Orphir, Stromnes, Sandwick, Shapinsha, Waes, Hoy, St Ola and of Evie, Burra and Flotta to be a patrimonie to the Bishop and his successors for ever: disponsing to him & his successors moreover ye right of Patronage to present to all the viccarages of Orkney                                 and

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Zetland with power to them to present qualified Ministers as oft as anie kirke should vaike [6] disponing moreover to them the heretable & perpetuall right & Jurisdiction of Sherrifeship and and Balzerie within the Bishoprick & patrimonie thereof, exceeming the Inhabitants and vassals theroef in all causes civill & Criminall, from the jurisdiction of the Sherriffs and Stewarts of the Earledom.  As also he disponed to the Bishop and his successors the Commissariot of Orkney & Zetland wt power to Constitute and ordain Commissars, Clerks and other members off Court.  In which Contract it wes moreover agreed, that the minister of Southronalsha dean, the minister of Birsa Archdeacon; the minister of Ladie kirk in Sanda Chancellor; the minister of Stronsa Treasurer ; and the parson of westra should be a sufficient Chapter, and that their consents should be as available for anie deed to be done be the Bishops of Orkney, as the fullest Chapter of anie Cathedrall kirk within the kingdom.  This Contract wes made, Anno 1614.  And in the year following, by ane act of Platt, dated at Edinburgh the 22 of November, the severall dignities and ministers both in the Bishoprick and Earledom wer provyded to particular mantenances (besyde what they wer in possession before) peyable be the king & Bishop to the ministers in their severall bounds respective;  And as itt  agreed  upon in that contract and determined be that act of Platt, so the church stands and is               pro

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[3] Scottish National Dictionary - square-hewn stone

[4] Scottish National Dictionary - vaulted

[5] Scottish National Dictionary - clock

[6] The Scottish National Dictionary - to fall vacant

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