(Note: "Shorkney" is not a real word. We're just using it to write about our recent trip to Aberdeen, Orkney, and Shetland.)
The Viking Age
After about 800 AD, the Vikings began to settle in Orkney and Shetland, though it's unclear whether they conquered the Picts who were already there or simply drove them back to the Scottish mainland.
Shetland and Orkney--but especially Orkney--were extremely important during the Viking Age. First, they lay at the geographical center of Viking maritime culture, situated at the crossroads of the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Norse culture remains strong in Orkney and Shetland to this day. Though debt forced the king of Norway to give Orkney to the Scottish in 1468, and the Scottish came to dominate Shetland culturally and economically at about the same time, many people in the Northern Isles consider themselves to be about as much Scandinavian as Scottish. There is definitely something Scandinavian about the Shetland dialect, and the modern flags of Orkney (top) and Shetland (bottom) were specifically designed to reflect this Norse heritage.
Compare this to the Norwegian Flag, below, which features the same off-center cross and a similar color scheme.
St. Magnus Cathedral
St. Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall, Orkney, is the greatest surviving monument to the Viking Age in the Northern Isles.
The cathedral is dedicated to St. Magnus, a local Viking ruler who was martyred in the 12th century for refusing to participate in a bloody raid in Wales. The oldest parts of the cathedral were built shortly thereafter, in the Romanesque style. This style is characterized by round arches, like upside-down U's, and darker interiors than the later Gothic style (think York Minster or Notre Dame).
The Romanesque style is the same used in Durham Cathedral in England, as well as on Lindisfarne.
You can see the round arches on either side of the photo below.
St. Magnus also has some typically Norse features, such as a longboat on the altar . . .
. . . and interlocking arches, which some have argued are an intermediate stage between rounded arches and vaulted arches.