Orkney’s St Magnus and Noel Edmonds
Forensic artist Hew Morrison’s research included studies of photographs taken in the 1920s of what is said to be the skull of the 12th- Century Norse earl.
Magnus Erlendsson shared the earldom of Orkney with his cousin, Haakon – whose jealousy led to the future saint being put to death.
Although the date of his martyrdom is uncertain, some time between 1115 and 1118 , Orkney’s annual St Magnus International Festival has chosen 2017 to mark the anniversary.
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In 1919, a wooden box with a skull inside was discovered at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall
University of Dundee graduate Mr Morrison, whose other reconstructions include that of a Bronze Age woman found buried in the Highlands, hopes his work on St Magnus will be displayed during the festival.
The photographs from 1925 were fortunately of a good quality
Hew Morrison – Forensic artist
St Magnus’ life and death are a feature of the Orkneyinga Saga, an interpretation of Orkney’s early history, including the conquest of the isles by Norway, and the islands’ earls.
The saga, written between the late 12th and early 13th centuries, tells of the collapse of the cousins’ shared earldom as Haakon turned against Magnus, betrayed him and had him executed. His head was split in two with an axe.
Later, miracles were said to have happened where Magnus was buried, including rocky ground changing into a grassy field.
St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall Museum of Bad Art's collection of celebrity un-lookalikes Mon, January 9, 2017
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Centuries later, in 1919, a wooden box with a skull showing a wound and an assortment of bones inside was discovered during renovations to St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.
A University of Aberdeen professor and an Aberdeen church minister examined the bones and determined that they must be remains of Magnus and the relics were interred in a pillar of the cathedral.
Mr Morrison said: “The bones are permanently inside a pillar of the cathedral, thus inaccessible, and I wondered whether there had ever been decent enough photographs taken of the remains that could be used to recreate a two-dimensional facial reconstruction.
“I managed to track down through Orkney Archives excellent photographs taken in 1925 that were suitable.”
Inside St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall
Mr Morrison has used computer software to create his reconstruction, drawing on the vintage photographs to help guide the shape of skull.
He said: “The photographs from 1925 were fortunately of a good quality, but most importantly a scale ruler was photographed alongside, which allowed me to scale the skull up to life size.
“The missing jaw was re-created using a formula from the fields of anthropology and orthodontics.
“For this, I worked alongside my friend Keli Rae, who is also a forensic artist.”
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