This is a brief summary of the most recent St Magnus Symposium (1-3 Sep 2022, Kirkwall), which was funded in part by SSNS through a Publication and Conference Grant.
Authored by Prof. Alexandra Sanmark
I am happy to report that our conference, ‘Ruler, Poet, Saint: Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson and his World’ ran successfully from 1-3 September 2022 in Kirkwall, Orkney. The conference took the form of a two-day symposium and was part of the International St Magnús Conference series organised through the Institute for Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Over two days, we heard 15 conference papers and two keynote presentations focused on the life and times of the twelfth-century Earl of Orkney, Jarl Rǫgnvaldr. The full programme is found at the end of this report.
The conference programme also included an evening of music and poetry at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, which showcased music and poetry telling the story of Orkney and its relationship with both Scotland and Norway. The poetry of Rögnvald Kali Kolsson was read in the cathedral he had built as his story was told by Ian Crockatt. Ian later continued to tell the story of Rögnvald through his own compositions. The varied musical acts of the evening drew on the theme of the concert, telling tales through music of the diverse links between Orkney and its neighbours. The audience were guided through the music throughout by the performers, who weaved the stories of interactions into their introductions to the music. The stories told through music explored many centuries of Orkney culture- from tales of the landing of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, to the widely practiced pre-wedding rituals of Orkney. The diversity of the tellers of the tales was a great bonus to the evening- from highly experienced performers who have travelled widely and collected an extensive musical repertoire- and the stories to tell them, to young performers who are now starting to learn the stories and traditions of Orkney.
The last day consisted of a coach excursion around Orkney. Participants were taken to key sites in the Norse history of Orkney: St Magnus Cathedral, the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces in Kirkwall,
Maeshowe, Birsay Bay and Earl’s Bu, Orphir. SSNS kindly agreed to fund two travel bursaries for graduate students and/or Early Career Researchers giving papers at the conference, and they have supplied the following accounts of their experience:
This was my first time in Orkney, and I could not think of a better excuse to visit than to present my research about Rǫgnvaldr with the cathedral he built as a backdrop. The niche theme of the conference allowed for it to be an intimate affair, which was a perfect catalyst for in-depth discussions outside of the presentations themselves. As a PhD fellow in my early career, networking with fellow early career scholars and established names in the field is indispensable. This intimate setting provided a golden opportunity for that. Unfortunately, the other presenter at my session was unable to make it. However, that gave me plenty of time for my presentation and subsequent questions. The events organised complemented the conference. The concert at the St. Magnus cathedral was thoroughly enjoyable, and we were honoured by the opportunity to experience it in such a magnificent setting. The excursion day crowned the experience; the highlight for me was Maeshowe, having seen the inscription carved by a Jerusalem-farer, the subject of my doctoral project. Overall, UHI’s organisation was impeccable, and I look forward to attending other events organised by the university and future St. Magnus symposia.
The 2022 St Magnus Symposium on Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson was excellently organised, highly informative, and, above all, immensely enjoyable. It was impressive to see such a diverse range of approaches taken to the character and history of Rǫgnvaldr, with papers examining his influence in a range of literary, archaeological, ecclesiastical, and political contexts. As several people commented at the time, the multi- and interdisciplinarity exhibited at the Symposium, and the collaborative efforts by several institutions to run the event in a hybrid environment, certainly did justice to the polymathic Rǫgnvaldr.
I found the conference particularly helpful, since I began working on Rǫgnvaldr for my doctoral thesis only several months before the event. My work on Rǫgnvaldr’s poetry and its audiences will benefit a great deal from the feedback I received on my paper, and from the array of information presented by the other speakers. It was also gratifying to see this excellent academic forum paired with ample opportunities for socialising. Although I was unable to join the post-conference excursion, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference dinner and the performance of poetry and music in the St Magnus Cathedral. My gratitude goes to all the Symposium organisers for putting on such a fantastic event.
The organisers are very pleased with how the conference went and we are now in the early stages of preparing a volume of conference proceedings. Thank you again for supporting our event.
Thursday 1 September 2022:
9:30-10am – Registration
10-11am – Keynote by Judith Jesch – ‘Rǫgnvaldr Kali and the Making of the Saga of the Earls of Orkney’
11-11:30 – Coffee break
11:30am-12:30pm – Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: Ruler, Poet, Saint (1)
Caitlin Ellis, ‘Rǫgnvaldr and the cult of St Magnús: Promotion and Inspiration’
Brydon Leslie, ‘Vita Sancti Rognvaldi’
12:30-1:30pm – Lunch
1:30-2:30pm – Prose and Poetry in the North (1)
Jonas Koesling, ‘Of Threatening Waves, Dangerous Currents, and Powerful Eddies: Revisiting the Sea in Old Nordic Prose and Poetry and the Scottish Isles’
Ben Chennells, ‘Orkneyinga saga and Skaldic Audiences from beyond Scandinavia’
2:30-3:00pm – Coffee break
3:00-4:00pm – Prose and Poetry in the North (2)
Klaus Johan Myrvoll, ‘Torf-Einarr’s poetry and the genealogical background of the earls of Orkney’
Mikael Males, ‘Háttalykill and twelfth-century poetic historiography’
4:00-4:15pm – Short break
4:15-5:15pm – Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson: Ruler, Poet, Saint (2)
Jack Threlfall Hartley, ‘Rögnvaldr Kali Kolsson and George Mackay Brown: Two Orcadian Literary Giants and Their Legacy’
John Dyce, ‘A Charismatic and Admirable Jarl: ‘The most intriguing character in the Orkneyinga Saga, I think, is Rognvald Kolsson, Earl of Orkney’ [George Mackay Brown ‘Earl Rognvald’s Commission’] – an evaluation of the earl through the lens of charisma theory and practice now’
19:00 – Cathedral event: Orkney, Scotland and Norway: Stories in music and verse. An evening of music and poetry celebrating the St Magnus Symposium and Year of Stories 2022.
Friday 2 September 2022:
10-11am – Keynote by Ian Crockatt – ‘Power-dressing, Gender and Angst in the poetry of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson’
11-11:30 – Coffee break
11:30am-12:30pm – Crusaders and the North
Karl Farrugia, ‘En gjarna vilda ek, at vér sæimsk aldri síðan’: Muslim alterity and Christian normativity in Sigurðr’s and Rǫgnvaldr’s Mediterranean adventures’
Agni Agathi C. Papamichael, ‘Lavishness, Nonchalance, and Cunningness: Overcoming and Emulating Byzantine Leaders in Old Norse Literature’
12:30-1:30pm – Lunch
1:30-3:00pm – Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond (1)
Sarah Jane Gibbon & Jenny Murray, ‘Rognvald the Saint Maker’
Russell Ó Ríagáin, ‘Rǫgnvaldr Kali and His Contemporaries in Ireland and Northern Britain in an Era of Competing Insular State-Formation Projects’
Tom Fairfax, ‘The forgotten dynasty of Rǫgnvaldr Kolsson’
3:00-3:30pm – Coffee break
3:30-4:30pm – Orkney in the Twelfth Century and Beyond (2)
Steffen Andre Birkeland Hope, ‘The liturgical image of Saint Magnus in context – royal sainthood and ecclesiastical identity in the Nidaros church province’
Timothy Bolton, ‘The Origins and History of Uppsala University Library MS. C233 and the contacts between Kirkwall and wider Europe’
4:30-4:45pm – Closing discussion
19:00 – Dinner