The Cathedral Building

Towering above the Kirkwall landscape, St. Magnus Cathedral, with its distinctive sandstone hues, is one of Orkney’s most significant landmarks.

Parts of this impressive building have stood for more than 850 years and its attractive appearance owes much to the polychromatic effect of the alternating stonework, comprising red sandstone quarried from Head of Holland, north of Kirkwall, and yellow sandstone which is believed to have been quarried on Eday, one of Orkney’s northern isles.

Sandstone is extremely soft and the weathering effects of Orcadian wind and rain over the course of time have helped create pleasing, almost sculptured effects that add to the Cathedral’s charm.

Sir Henry Dryden considered the stonework to be the “finest example in Great Britain of the use of stones in two different colours” and few visitors today would disagree.

Much of the original external stonework was fashioned by medieval master masons who, it is generally believed, were trained at Durham Cathedral.

Although erosion has taken its toll, good examples of the original work can still be seen in the south transept doorway and around the three doorways in the west end.