The Miracle of Bishop William the Old

Bishop William the Old miraculously loses and regains his sight. Black and white india ink drawing showing Bishop William stretching his hands up towards God. Behind him the skeletal visage of Saint Magnus removes his hands from William's eyes.
Bishop William the Old miraculously loses and regains his sight. India ink, 2024.

The sudden blindness and miraculous return of Bishop William the Old’s sight.

Bishop William the Old was a power-broker in 12th Century Orkney, during the time of the Norse Earls. He was an ecclesiastical leader for 66 years, and a good friend of the notorious Svein Asleifsson, whom he aided and abetted on more than once occasion.

During William’s time there were not only two Earls ruling simultaneously (Haakon and Magnus), but also two Bishops. There was a great deal of vying for power, resulting in Earl Magnus Erlendsson being betrayed and martyred on the island of Egilsay.

A miracle cult grew up around St. Magnus, which Bishop William at first denied legitimacy. Following a visit to Norway and then Shetland where the cult of Magnus was strong, William relented. Returning to Orkney, he claimed to have experienced sudden blindness which was miraculously cured by the saintly spirit of Magnus.

Coincidentally, Bishop Williams’s change of heart regarding Magnus coincides with a shift in the power balance in Orkney in favour of Magnus’ nephew, Rognvald Kali Kolsson.