Saint Mary's Church, Burwick on a late autumn day
The Saint Mary's Preservation Trust exists to support the restoration and preservation of Saint Mary's Church in Burwick, at the South end of the island of South Ronaldsay in Orkney. The Trust needs money to make it possible for this wonderful location to be used in as many ways as possible for both the local community and visitors to the island. St Mary's is therefore hoping for donations: click here to go to the Donate button.
Old St Mary’s Church was built in 1789 (replacing an even earlier church) and is located in Burwick, at the bottom of the south parish of South Ronaldsay. The church is also historically known as the Lady Kirk. The site is said to be where the first Christian missionaries arrived in Orkney. Within the church, there is a rounded grey whin stone carved with 2 footprints; this is believed to be quite a few things, including a Pictish coronation stone. Click here for section.
Postcode for Satnav: KW17 2RW
This lovely building is not only of considerable historical interest but also in a wonderfully romantic location, at the head of a bay leading to the Pentland Firth, with Scotland over the water.
This great little church is in a sad state of repair but it can be rescued. The trustees would like to ask all Orcadians, past, present, and future, and also all visitors, to help in its restoration either by direct involvement or by a donation to the restoration fund.
The whin stone or Ladykirk Stone
As mentioned above, there are a number of folkloric legends about this wonderful stone. Coronation stone, miracle stone, punishment stone? On such legend is that St Magnus used it as a boat to carry him across the Pentland Firth and placed it in a church in a gesture of gratitude. Another, recounted by John Bellenden, the archdeacon of Moray in 1529, goes as follows:
South Ronaldsay is an island inhabited by robust men; it has a church near the sea-shore, where there is a very hard stone called 'a grey whin,' six feet long and four broad, in which the print of two naked feet is fixed, which no workman could have made. Old men narrate that a certain Gallus, being expelled the country, went on board of some ship to find an asylum elsewhere, when suddenly a storm arose by which they were exposed to great danger, and at last were shipwrecked; he at length jumped on to the back of a whale, and vowed, humbly praying to God, that if he was carried safely to shore, he would in memory, &c., build a church to the Virgin Mary. The prayer being heard, he was carried safely to the shore by the assistance of the whale. The whale having become changed into a stone of its own colour, he placed it in that church where it still remains. (Barry's Orkney Islands, p. 443.)
The Canmore National Record of the Historic Environment (link on External Links page) says instead that the stone was already within the church when George Low saw and sketched it in 1774. His suggestion that it was used ‘to expose delinquents at the Church’ may indicate a secondary use for the stone and a reason for taking it into the church.
Willie Thomson (William P.L. Thomson) a former rector of Kirkwall Grammar School and greatly respected author of many books on Orkney's history, also wrote about the Ladykirk Stone, which you can read here.
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