We have just visited a fantastic place that most people never see – one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in Scotland and a place with huge historical significance.
St Boniface Kirk is a small unassuming chapel on the island of Papa Westray. It was built on ancient settlement that has been lived in continuously since the 2nd millenium BC. St Boniface’s is one of Orkney’s two pre-reformation churches left standing after the Reformer’s Crowbar Crusade – i suppose they couldn’t make it out this far to demolish it. And a good thing too!
The church was a significant ecclesiastic power in the 8th Century and possibly the seat of Orkney’s first bishop. It may have been the ecclesiastic centre for Orkney and the Shetlands, as well as being the key missionary outpost for monks going north on mission to Scandanavia. It had a strategic link to Northumbria.
[Our daughter Tamara, smelling the flowers in the chapel]
The present kirk has been enlarged over time and somewhat restored. It is owned by the community and occasionally has services, including the annual St Boniface day celebration on June 5th.
At the back of St Boniface’s Kirk is what locals called “Munkerhoose” or Monks house. It is the crumbling remains of bee hive cells that were used by the monks on their way to bring the gospel to the north. Unfortunately, these historic monuments are now being washed out to sea. More about that soon.