The Orkneyinga Saga

Ed. Joseph Anderson
The Mercat Press
ISBN: 1 84183 002 X
Published 1999.
Paperback £10.99

First published in 1873 the front cover of The Orkneyinga Saga carries the apparent sub-title: ‘”The saga provides a framework for an understanding of Orkney’s early history and of its Viking heritage.” That in a nutshell sums up what this book is all about. It was translated from the Icelandic and is a saga in the original sense – an oral account of the doings of hero and villains, of great battles and old Gods.

Historical investigation reveals that the oral part must have been written down prior to 1225. The history of Orkney up to the end of the Norwegian ownership of the Islands is given making The Orkneyinga a (‘The’? – Ed.) most important contemporary source.

The account begins in pre-history and gives details of the arrival of Christianity. The earldom of Orkney is given in detail from 872 AD. Of particular interest to us here is the details of the Earldom of the St Clairs from 1379 – 1469.

There is a great deal of information packed into the 227 pages and reading it for this review cleared up one point that has remained unanswered for a long time and that concerns the round church of Orphir. Some have claimed that round churches were a feature exclusive to the Kinghts Templar. However, the Orkneyinga Saga makes it clear that the church was built by Earl Hakon after a visit to the Holy Land. Hakon died in 1122.

For those who wish to have information relating to Orkney in general and the Sinclair Earls in particular this book is a very important source. Because the Saga is in narrative form it does not reproduce documents but the editor makes reference to quite a few and also to the work of Father Richard Augustine Hay who wrote the Genealogie of the St Clairs of Rosslyn. In very many ways The Orkneyinga Saga is an essential companion to the Geanologie… for they complement each other particularly in relation to the Sinclair family.

Well worth the money.

(Note:- It is thought that the Rosslyn Templars ought to provide source material relating to the Sinclairs of Orkney and we shall actively consider this but we would point out that nearly all the manuscripts of the Sinclairs of Rosslyn have been translated and reproduced in the Genealogie of the St Clair of Rosslyn and as this is the property (and © copyright) of the Grand Lodge of Scotland cannot be reproduced here. Ed.)

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