Orcadians - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Since the Reformation, Protestant denominations have replaced the older Celtic-Norse form of Catholicism. The Church of Scotland was established by the Stuarts. Later, the United Presbyterian Church, the Free Church, and the United Secession denominations gained dominance. Saint Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, which dates back to 1137, is unique in Britain in that it was deeded over to the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall and does not have a bishop. Most Orcadians are very religious, but the older strict Sabbatarianism has vanished. Today, the churches are important social centers.

Religious Practitioners. Protestant ministers traditionally have been respected as individuals and leaders by most People. However, there has always been some anticlericism over the past two centuries. The people of Harray District on Mainland were regarded as the most devout people.

Ceremonies. The weekly Sunday services are still of importance to many people, especially in the rural and smaller island areas. During the yearly religious cycle, the most important festive days are Yule, New Year's, Candlemas, Easter, Lammas, Harvest Home, and Halloween. On the secular side the annual Ba' (Ball) games on Christmas (Yule) and New Year's are major community events in Kirkwall. The two opposing "teams," the Uppies (uptowners) and the Doonies (downtowners), engage in a "free-for-all football match" on the narrow winding "main" street of Kirkwall.

Arts. The most important local art is the making of sterling silver jewelry; knitting is of less importance. The most important modern Orkney writers have been Edward Muir, Eric Linklater, and, currently, George Mackay Brown of Stromness.

Medicine. The medical services and practices are basically the same as those for the rest of the United Kingdom (i.e., Socialized medicine, modern clinics, and hospitalization). Rural doctors are present, but most services are centered in Kirkwall.

Death and Afterlife. Death and funerals were a reminder of the unity of the kin group and all households within the local community. In the past, wakes of eight days were held in the home. The wakes were accompanied by games among the younger people, condolences by others, and an ever-present fear that the ghost of the deceased might return. Drinking of ale and whiskey was an important part of the funeral. The basic Protestant beliefs in heaven and hell prevail.

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