About Orkney
 About the Site
 Search Site 
  Magnus - the Martyr of Orkney

The resting places of Magnus’ body

Local tradition has it that the body of St Magnus, en route from Evie to Birsay for its burial, was rested at a number of places.

Key to these beliefs were the customs surrounding wheelie-stanes. These were ingrained into Orkney’s funerary customs.

At a time when transporting a corpse to its final resting place meant a considerable trek, all the while carrying a body or coffin, it was considered unlucky to set down the body, or coffin, anywhere except specific traditional spots along the route.

These stopping-points were known as wheelie kros or wheelie stanes, a name deriving from the Norse word hvila meaning to rest.

The origin of these points, and why they were considered suitable, is unclear but it has been suggested they may once have been the sites of roadside shrines. Others were undoubtedly places of ancient, pagan significance - wells, stones etc.

Writing in The Orcadian in 1972, Ernest Marwick noted that, according to a Birsay resident, the traditional wheelie-places for St Magnus' corpse were:

  • Mans Stone
  • Lingro
  • Crustan
  • Waspitten
  • A stone in a field near Skippigeo/Skibbageo.

He wrote:

"If Lingro to Crustan was a stage between rests, and Waspitten to Skippigeo another, there must have been intermediate stages between Mans Stone and Lingro and Crustan and Waspitten.

“The high lands of Costa Hill and Crustan behind them, the bearers took the comparatively easy path along the shore between Crustan and Waspitten.

"Waspitten was a stone on a field on the farm of Doverhouse, formerly called Flecketsquoy. A strip of land on which the stone lay was never ploughed: it was sacred ground as the body of the saint had rested there.”

During the Second World War, however, service men from the nearby military camp had other views about the stone - they broke it up to make concrete.