Thorulf of Orkney

Last updated

Bishop of Orkney
See Diocese of Orkney
In office 1043 x 1072
Predecessor Unclear, but Bishop Henry last known
Successor John
Consecration 1043 x 1072 (perhaps c. 1050)
Personal details
Born unknown
Died unclear

Thorulf or Torulf (fl. mid-11th century) was medieval prelate, a Bishop of Orkney. Although probably a native Scandinavian, he is known only from the account of the German writer Adam of Bremen. Adam reported that he was appointed bishop by Adalbert, Archbishop of Hamburg, the first Orcadian appointee under Hamburg overlordship. Thorulf's period of appointment coincided with the reign of Earl Thorfinn Sigurdsson, alleged builder of the Birsay church and founder of the bishopric of Orkney.

Prelate high-ranking member of the clergy

A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means "carry before", "be set above or over" or "prefer"; hence, a prelate is one set over others.

Bishop of Orkney Wikimedia list article

The Bishop of Orkney was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Orkney, one of thirteen medieval bishoprics of Scotland. It included both Orkney and Shetland. It was based for almost all of its history at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.

Vikings Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates

Vikings were Norse seafarers, mainly speaking the Old Norse language, who during the late 8th to late 11th centuries, raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. The term is also commonly extended in modern English and other vernaculars to the inhabitants of Norse home communities during what has become known as the Viking Age. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion constitutes an important element in the early medieval history of Scandinavia, Estonia, the British Isles, France, Kievan Rus' and Sicily.


Hamburg and Orkney

Thorulf is known only from one source. According to the late 11th-century Saxon writer Adam of Bremen, he was appointed as bishop of Blascona in Orkney by Adalbert, Archbishop of Hamburg. [1] In the mid-11th century, the Archbishop of Hamburg's jurisdiction extended over Scandinavia. [2] Historians identify Blascona with Birsay (Old Norse: Birgisherað), Blascona a Latinisation perhaps derived from an older form. [3]

Duchy of Saxony duchy

The Duchy of Saxony was originally the area settled by the Saxons in the late Early Middle Ages, when they were subdued by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars from 772 and incorporated into the Carolingian Empire (Francia) by 804. Upon the 843 Treaty of Verdun, Saxony was one of the five German stem duchies of East Francia; Duke Henry the Fowler was elected German king in 919.

Adam of Bremen chronicler

Adam of Bremen was a German medieval chronicler. He lived and worked in the second half of the eleventh century. Adamus is most famous for his chronicle Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum.

Adalbert of Hamburg German archbishop

Adalbert was Archbishop of Hamburg and Bishop of Bremen from 1043 until his death. Called Vikar des Nordens, he was an important political figure of the Holy Roman Empire, papal legate, and one of the regents for Emperor Henry IV.

Adam leaves no personal details about Thorulf, but supplies some information about the Orkney see, stating that the:

...Orkney Islands, although they had previously been ruled by English and Scottish bishops, our primate [Adalbert] on the pope's order consecrated Thorulf bishop for the city of Birsay [in civitatem Blasconam], and he was to have cure of all. [4]

The date was approximately 1050, though could have been at any point between 1043 and 1072, the episcopate of Adalbert. [5] The date 1050 is suggested as this was around the time that Earl Thorfinn Sigurdsson, ruler of Orkney, visited Rome. [6]

Thorulf and Thorfinn

As Adam mentioned that the Orcadians had sent legates, it is thought that Thorulf was appointed at Orcadian instigation, and it has even be suggested that the earl himself was among these legates. [7] Historian Barbara Crawford thought that Thorulf was a Scandindavian, and a close associate of the earl. [8] The Orkneyinga saga related that Birsay was the permanent residence of Earl Thorfinn, and that the earl built a minster there [dedicated to Christ] as the seat of the first Orkney bishop. [9]

<i>Orkneyinga saga</i>

The Orkneyinga saga is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney and Shetland islands and their relationship with other local polities, particularly Norway and Scotland. The saga has "no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland" and is "the only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action". The main focus of the work is the line of jarls who ruled the Earldom of Orkney, which constituted the Norðreyjar or Northern Isles of both Orkney and Shetland and there are frequent references to both archipelagoes throughout.

Although this specific claim may not be true [one previous bishop is known], it is nevertheless taken as evidence that Thorfinn's reign was a significant turning point for the earldom, [10] suggesting according to historian Ronald Cant "a deliberate plan on the part of the earl to perfect the organization of the church in Orkney". [11] Thorfinn and Thorulf's Christ Church has been identified with the Romanesque ruins on the tidal island known as Brough of Birsay, but there is also evidence that it was located over in the Mainland next to the Earl's palace. [12]

Romanesque architecture architectural style of Medieval Europe

Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later date being the most commonly held. In the 12th century it developed into the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman architecture. The Romanesque style in England is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture.

Tidal island Land which is connected to the mainland by a causeway which is covered by high tide and exposed at low tide

A tidal island is a piece of land that is connected to the mainland by a natural or man-made causeway that is exposed at low tide and submerged at high tide. Because of the mystique surrounding tidal islands many of them have been sites of religious worship, such as Mont Saint-Michel with its Benedictine Abbey. Tidal islands are also commonly the sites of fortresses because of their natural fortifications.

Brough of Birsay An uninhabited tidal island off the north-west coast of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland

The Brough of Birsay is an uninhabited tidal island off the north-west coast of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland, in the parish of Birsay. It is located around 13 miles north of Stromness and features the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements as well as a modern light house.

Religious titles
Preceded by
Last known predecessor:
Bishop of Orkney
1043 x 1072 (perhaps c. 1050)
Succeeded by


  1. Watt and Murray, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 322; Anderson, Early Sources, vol. ii, p. 8; Tschan (ed.), History of the Archbishops, pp. 183, 216
  2. Dowden, Bishops, p. 252
  3. Crawford, "Bishops of Orkney", p. 1, n. 1, for details; Thomson, New History, p. 85
  4. Tschan (ed.), History of the Archbishops, p. 216
  5. Tschan (ed.), History of the Archbishops, p. 216, n. 119; Watt and Murray, Fasti Ecclesiae, p. 322
  6. "Birsay-Peel-Selja", pp. 22–23
  7. Crawford, Scandinavian Scotland, p. 81; Thomson, New History, p. 85; Tschan (ed.), History of the Archbishops, p. 180
  8. Crawford, "Birsay", p. 104
  9. Crawford, "Birsay", pp. 100–04
  10. Crawford, "Birsay", pp. 104–05
  11. Cant, "Church in Orkney and Shetland", p. 2
  12. Thomson, New History, pp. 85–87

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