one of the most significant historical sites in the town of Kirkwall
is also the least known.
Hundreds of people walk past the
remains of the St Olaf Kirk daily, the majority of them entirely
unaware of its existence and place in the development of the town.
Little remains of the kirk these
days, merely a stone archway of cut sandstone found up a lane in
the heart of old Kirkwall, a short distance from the harbour.
Founded sometime after 1035, the
little church of St Olaf is possibly the original kirk from which Kirkwall
took its name - Kirkjuvagr being the Old Norse name meaning "church bay".
The church was built by Earl Rognvald
Brusison who dedicated it to his foster-father, King Olaf Haraldson
of Norway. King Olaf was a converted Christian who had died in
1030, at the battle of Sticklastadt.
At this time, Kirkwall was nothing
more than two irregular rows of houses. One row spreading from east
to west along the shore, the other running southwards at right angles
to the sea front and facing the Oyce - the area of water now known
as the Peedie Sea.
St Olaf's Kirk was then the southernmost
building in Kirkwall and attached to an area of consecrated ground
that extended to the Papdale burn.
When the remains of St
Magnus were moved from Christchurch in Birsay and brought to
Kirkwall, it is likely that upon their arrival they were housed
within St Olaf's Kirk until the Cathedral,
which was under construction, was ready to take them.