St Magnus the Martyr

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Earlier in the week I saw for the first time in a long time an Orcadian flag flying from the church of St Magnus the Martyr in the City of London …

The eponymous Magnus Erlendsson, a piously Christian Viking (!) was the Earl of Orkney at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  He was murdered on the island of Egilsay sometime between 1115 and 1118 (sources differ), evidently by his loyal servant Lifolf, acting on the orders of his  covetous and treacherous kinsman  Hakon.  According to the Orkneyinga Saga, this was despite his, Magnus,  having made three placatory offers to Hakon: First, to  go   on a pilgrimage to Rome, or the Holy Land; second, to  be kept under guard; and third, to be mutilated or blinded, and locked in a dungeon.  Magnus the Martyr was made a saint in or around 1135.

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St Magnus’s Cathedral in Kirkwall in Orkney was built in his honour, and to house his remains,  by his nephew Kali Kolson, also known as Rognvald, in 1137.

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Magnus’s remains were recently uncovered here, and a reconstruction of him made.

The church of St Magnus the Martyr at the northern end of London Bridge in the City of London was probably originally built sometime in the twelfth century.

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It was subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren in the seventeenth, between 1671-87, after having been burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

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Despite extensive eighteenth- to twentieth- century modifications, it retains much of the  “inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold” alluded to by T.S. Eliot in his 1922 poem “The Waste Land”.

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Among the many treasures inside the church are: a modern statue and stained-glass window depicting St Magnus in a horned Viking helmet; further modern stained-glass windows depicting the churches of St Margaret New Fish Street and St Michael Crooked Lane, burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and the chapel of St Thomas a Becket on Old London Bridge, demolished in 1831; and a modern scale-model of the bridge as it would have looked in its Medieval heyday.

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