Papa Westray
Orkney

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The lane down to St Boniface
St Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray - photograph by Douglas Hourston

St Boniface Kirk

Now restored, St Boniface Kirk is set in an important ecclesiastic site dating back to the 8th century.  It stands above the rocky shore towards the north west of Papa Westray. It has Iron Age, Pictish and later remains nearby, dating from the 6th century BC to 12th century AD.  A Norse hog-back gravestone and two Early Christian cross-slabs found in the Kirkyard all combine to indicate a site of great significance.

Hogback tombstone in St Botolphs kirkyard
Hogback tombstone in St Botolphs kirkyard

Interior view of restored church - photograph by Douglas Hourston

The Kirk is dedicated to St Boniface (675 to 754 AD) a famous teacher and missionary, working in Friesia and Germany, becoming a bishop in 722 AD and archbishop in 732 AD. He established many new churches, monasteries and bishoprics before being murdered in 754 AD.

One interpretation of the story of St Boniface Kirk on Papay involves the Pictish King Nechtan who was conversion to the Roman Church around 715 AD. He formed an alliance with the kingdom of Northumbria and invited the clergy to establish a well ordered Christian mission through his domain.  Many churches and monasteries were on or near the sites of brochs, iron age fortified towers, indicating an important place of power.  This is the case with St Boniface Kirk.

As St Boniface met his fate whilst the mission to convert the Picts was spreading its network of churches and monasteries in the north, to Orkney and Shetland, the church built on Papay may have been dedicated to him at this time.

St Boniface Kirk is the only church in Orkney, apart from St  Magnus Cathedral, to survive the Reformation and remain in use in the present day.  The kirk was abandoned in 1929, but maintained until 1944.  The building was restored in 1993  and is regularly used for services and concerts.

There is a display of photographs and  a ceramic tile plaque designed by the children of Papay in the kirk.

St Boniface Kirk in the snow
St Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray, winter view


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