MAGNUS was descended from Malcolm Canmore, King of the Scots. Earl Magnus and his half-brother Earl Hakon ruled the Northern Isles, and while they were in agreement with one another there was peace and plenty within those isles. But dissensions arose. Magnus was eminently handsome, beneficent, and beloved. Hakon was lacking in these qualities, and he became morose and jealous of his brother.
The two brothers met at the Thingsread in Lent, Hakon being there for offensive, and Magnus for defensive, purposes. Wisdom prevailed, however, and war was averted. To confirm the peace Hakon invited Magnus to meet him in Pasch week in the church of Egilsey, the brothers agreeing to limit their retinue to two warships each. Magnus observed the agreement and came with two ships, but Hakon brought eight, with their full complement of armed men.
His people wished to defend Magnus, but he refused to allow the spilling of blood, or the perilling of souls. Magnus submitted to his brother three proposals. First, that he should go to his relative, the King of the Scots, and never return; second, that he should go to Rome or to Jerusalem and never return; or third, that he would submit to be maimed, gouged, or slain. Hakon spurned all the proposals save the last, and Magnus was put to death on the 14th of April, 1115, to the great grief of his people. The place where Magnus was slain had been a rough, sterile moor of heath and moss, but immediately Magnus was put to death the moor became a smiling grassy plain, and there issued a heavenly light and a sweet odour from the holy ground.
Those who were in peril prayed to Magnus and were rescued, and those who were sick came to his grave and were healed. Pilgrims flocked to his tomb to keep vigil at his shrine, and be cured of their leprosy of body or of soul.
St Magnus had three burials - the first in the island of Egilsey where he was slain, and the second at the intercession of his mother, Thora, in Christ Church in the island of Birsa. During imminent peril at sea Earl Rognovald prayed to Magnus for deliverance, and vowed that he would build a minster to his memory more beautiful than any church in those lands. The prayer was heard, and Rognovald built and endowed, to the memory of the holy Magnus, the cathedral church of Kirkwall. Thither the relics of the saint were brought and interred, and the cathedral became the resort of pilgrims who sought the aid of St Magnus.
At the battle of Anglesea, between Magnus Barefoot, his brother Ireland, his cousin Haco, and the Earls of Chester and Shrewsbury, Magnus recited the Psalter during the conflict. The victory of his northern kinsmen was attributed to the holy Magnus.