Some History


Lerwick was originally part of Tingwall parish. At the time of the Revolution, there was a vacancy and Presbyterianism prevailed in this area. Not until 1726 was an Episcopalian cleric settled in Lerwick.

After a century with no Episcopalian clergy in Shetland, a mission was formed in 1861. The Foundation Stone of the present church was laid on the Feast of St. Magnus (April 16) 1863. The building was completed in 1864 and consecrated on 27 June that year. The distinctive tower was added in 1891.

The windows are of some interest, and indicate something of the fortunes of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Shetland. Above the altar, the centre light is dedicated to the memory of the Revd. John Hunter. Hunter, who died in 1761, was the last remaining Episcopalian priest in Shetland after the Reformation. The window in the north wall of the choir is in memory of the Revd. Robert Walker (Rector of St. Magnus, 1864-1896) – the first Episcopalian priest in Shetland after Hunter.

Magnus the Saint

Little is really known of the early twelfth century figure Magnus Erlendsson who was jointly Earl of Orkney with his cousin Håkon Pålsson, but legend has compensated for the absence of facts.

According to the story of the Orkneyinga Saga, Håkon was a fierce and aggressive warrior, while Magnus (most famously at a bloody battle in the Menai Straits led by King Magnus Barelegs, for example) refused to fight and stood aside chanting psalms. An angry and jealous Håkon plotted against the popular, mild mannered and pacific Magnus, and eventually had him killed.

Following his death, miracles attributed to Magnus’ intervention grew rapidly. Though he was not strictly a martyr (because Håkon also claimed to be a Christian), stories about the dead earl developed at such a pace that Magnus’ nephew Rognvald had the great Cathedral at Kirkwall built in his honour and as a shelter for his remains.

The sagas depicted Magnus as a noble-looking, strong, tall man. Excavation at the Cathedral in Kirkwall in 1926 unearthed a man of about five feet seven with a small skull capacity.

Veneration of St. Magnus has focused on his pacifistic qualities and the humility and bravery of his death. Magnus saw no heroism in senseless killing. He stands out as a counter-cultural figure against a background of violence and warfare throughout northern Europe. For this reason at least, St. Magnus has had an honoured place in the story of Christianity of Orkney and Shetland, and he remains an example in our own age.

The Worldwide Church
As a congregation of the Scottish Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, St. Magnus is in full communion with all of the other churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world.

Communion is also fully shared with the German Old Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church and the Philippine Independent Church.

Since 1994, through the Porvoo Declaration the Scottish Episcopal Church has joined with the Lutheran Churches of the Nordic and Baltic countries, and the other Anglican churches of Great Britain and Ireland, in recognising the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry of each other’s churches. As well as the churches of Wales, Ireland and England, the Porvoo Declaration includes: the Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Lithuania; the Church of Norway and the Church of Sweden.

Since 2001, through the Reuilly Common Statement, it has become possible for the British and Irish Anglican Churches to share Communion with the French Reformed Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France, the Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine and the Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is committed to the ecumenical movement and is an active participant in the national body Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS).

Our Brief History (A PDF version):

As part of our 150th Anniversary celebration we have revised and updated a history booklet written by local historian Douglas Sinclair. This project was sponsored by Dr Barbara Crawford from St Andrews.

This new “Brief History” is below, and also available as a PDF file: