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
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