Published On: Fri, Feb 2nd, 2018

Christian Round Churches Hide Astronomical Secrets of the Viking Seafarers

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Orkney is an archipelago in the northern isles of Scotland, annexed by Norwegian explorers in 875 AD and Christianized by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, (960s – 1000). It was from Orkney where many of the early Viking raids into England were launched. Were Christian Viking round churches in Norway aligned with the round church in Orkney, Scotland, to support astronomical maritime navigation routes?

Blaeu's 1654 map of Orkney and Shetland. (Public Domain)

Blaeu’s 1654 map of Orkney and Shetland. (Public Domain)

Haakon Paulsson, Jarl of Orkney

Jarl is a Norse title, preceding the title of Earl. By the early 12th century the navigable channels between the islands of Orkney were controlled by Jarl Haakon Paulsson (Old Norse: Hákon Pálsson) (1103-c. 1123), whom King Magnus III of Norway had appointed regent in Orkney. Haakon was a descendant of the Norse lineage of Røgnvald (the Wise) and jointly ruled the Earldom of Orkney with his cousin Magnus Erlendsson, from 1105 – 1114, in which year Haakon had Magnus murdered. As penance for having unlawfully killed his cousin, church authorities ordered Haakon to undertake a pilgrimage to ‘the burial place of Christ’, an adventure which was recorded in the  Orkneyinga Saga  (a historical narrative of the history of Orkney from the 9th to 12th century):

“Haakon faired south to Rome, and to Jerusalem…upon his return he became a good ruler, and kept his realm well at peace and he built Orphir Church to replicate the Templar built rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which he had visited while he was in Jerusalem.”

An example of a page from the  Orkneyinga saga , as it appears in the 14th century  Flatey Book . (Public Domain)

Was Haakon Paulsson a Templar Knight?

Haakon was a wealthy warlord who had undertaken a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the fashion of the Templars. He even had a round church built in the style of the Templar rotunda, which he encountered in Jerusalem, upon his return to Orkney.  He had visited Jerusalem at the same time as the founding Knights Templar. An interpretation panel installed at Orphir Round Church claims it is the “northernmost Knights Templar round church in the UK”. However, it is disputed whether Haakon built a “Templar church”.

Although Templars vowed to ‘defend the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ and subsequently built many round churches reflecting its underlying design, circular church design was not limited to Templar architecture and several monastic institutions had built in the circular style. Nevertheless, so often it is written that  all of Europe’s circular churches were built by the Knights Templar, but it is much closer to the truth to say that ‘ they built some, possibly most’  of Europe’s medieval round churches.

King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, (960s – 1000) who forcibly Christianized Orkney.

King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway,  (960s – 1000)  who forcibly Christianized Orkney. Painting by  Peter Nicolai Arbo . (Public Domain)

Furthermore, if Haakon had become a Templar Knight in Jerusalem then he would have been obliged upon joining to relinquish his “material wealth and possessions” to the Order. This transaction would certainly have included his valuable agricultural and strategically located lands at Orphir and as such it would have been listed somewhere in the inventories of Templar properties in Scotland. However, there is no mention of Orphir anywhere in the records. The northernmost Templar property recorded in Scotland was a Preceptory House (farm, temple, bank) located in Dingwall on the Black Isle, near Inverness. It must be added however, that many 12th century knights and noblemen avoided the ranks of the Knights Templar for socio-political reasons, yet they maintained strong mercantile and military relationships with the Order.

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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .   www.ashleycowie.com.

Top Image: Wasteland Viking Ship. (CCO Public Domain )

By Ashley Cowie

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