Family Pilgrimage to Papay


Last weekend our family took a ferry out from the island of Westray to the tiny monastic island of Papa Westray.


We went through a farm to get to the monastery.

howar  - jones family

This is us, sitting in the Knap of Howar, the oldest standing house in Northern Europe. Its almost 6000 years old. Samuel (bottom right) doesnt look very interested in all this prehistoric Flintstone stuff but inside he’s doing somersaults!


Monks don’t live around here anymore. But back around the 8th century, this tiny island in the northern part of the Orkneys used to be the mission center for Orkney, Shetland, and probably the north of Scotland. The wandering monks were on their way to bring the gospel to Norway, Greenland and other remote places and many ended up staying here. Those bee-hive cells that the monks lived in are now getting washed out to sea.


The monks lived just over the hill from that old house.

189587183 Bf4Db79195A little church building called St Boniface Kirk still stands. Its one of the few remaining pre-reformation churches in Scotland still in use. We were here last year – when i took this photo. Its origins go back to the 8th Century AD but the present building was built in the 12th Century. But people have been living on this spot since, some people say, 6th Century BC.

Thats a really long time ago. People were living here a long time before the time of Abram (Abraham) who was told by God that his descendants would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Weird to think what would have happened if God had chosen someone here in Orkney rather than someone from Iraq.


Down the road there is another monastic settlement known as St Tredwell’s Chapel. It was a nunnery of sorts and led by St Tredwell (Triduana). The chapel is still standing but its covered over.

I guess I really like this island because, when i look at the 6000 year old house and the remains of the monastery, and the old church over the hill, I think about God’s promise to Abraham that involved people living here at that time, as well as families down through the ages. And I think about how it led to a response from God’s people to take the blessing of the good news of Christ to all the nations, ending up monastic settlements and church buildings all the way to this remote island. Not many places where so much story is represented in one small space.

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Tim P. says:

    I always enjoy your posts about the Orkneys and the “papar” who established churches and monasteries there. I am sure you have read the “Saga of the Orkneys,” but in case you haven’t, I’ve included a link to it. Lately, I have been reading a lot of the sagas that contain stories of the Celtic Christian monks who set up church in many of the remote islands of the North Sea. Good stuff. I am glad to see that you and your family are well and I hope you post another “homebrew” or “home cooked culinary artistry” post soon.
    Take care,
    Amazon link:

  • Mike Clawson says:

    I hate to quibble with your dates, but 6000 years ago would put it at around 4000 B.C. Abraham’s time was roughly around 2000 B.C. This means people were living in the Orkneys at least two millenia before Abraham existed. In fact, according to some 6-Day Creationists, they were there roughly around the same time God created the world. I wonder what the view of that was like from the Orkneys…

  • andrew says:

    thanks Mike. Some say 3500BC for the Knap of Howar – and yes, a long time before Abraham as well as during Abraham’s time. Sorry if that was not clear.

  • Rick says:

    You have given me even more reason to try to visit the area. Great stuff. Thanks!

  • John L says:

    Gorgeous! Brings to mind imagery of Tristan and Isolde. Thanks for sharing the photos.

  • Melody says:

    Why are you all sitting in front of the “oldest standing house”? It appears to be a “sitting house” as one would need to be quite short to stand in it. Beautiful place, though.

  • andrew says:

    we are sitting inside it. no roof. and yes its quite short but was probably taller a long time ago.

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