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The Old Cathedrals of Scotland


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Though they cannot compare with those of England in architectural glory and size, the cathedrals of Scotland nevertheless possess a quiet charm and dignity, set as some of them are on fine natural sites. Apart from this, their connexions with the history of the country are great enough to make them worthy of study from this point alone. To-day the majority are used as parish churches by the Presbyterian Established Church, while the remainder are in a state of ruin - all well cared for, however.

The most important cathedral was St. Andrews. It was the Canterbury of Scotland, and though it did not become the seat of an archbishop till 1472, the bishops of St. Andrews had been regarded as the head of the Scottish clergy since about 908. The origin of the place is supposed to be due to a Greek monk named Regulus, who according to tradition had brought hither the relics of S. Andrew in a boat with neither sail nor oar; but this is a myth, and it is probable that the name is due to a Bishop Acca, who brought some relics of the saint in the eighth century. The great cathedral was founded about the middle of the twelfth century, but was not finished for many years after that. It was the largest in Scotland, and stands near the top of a low cliff hanging over the North Sea. In its ruins no very great idea of its former grandeur can be judged, for the great central tower has gone, with the columned nave and choir, till to-day only fragments of the East and West ends, including the great West doorway and part of the South aisle, remain, surrounded by the great towered wall built in 1520 by Prior Hepburn.

The other archbishopric was Glasgow, a place which is seldom thought to contain the finest medieval cathedral in Scotland. Its early history is connected with S. Kentigern or Mungo, a holy man who laboured in the district and died in 603, but the bishopric, like so many others, was founded by David I and a cathedral was begun. This was burnt down, however, and it was not till about the middle of the thirteenth century that the present choir and crypt were built, while the rest followed, bit by bit, for about two hundred years. To-day it stands complete with the exception of the western towers, which were destroyed by the restorers of the 'forties of the last century. Owing perhaps to this the exterior is a little featureless, but the interior is very fine. The nave, which is kept empty, has at its eastern extremity a stone choir screen and altars built about 1500 when the cathedral was at the height of its glory with the king himself a member of the chapter. The choir, which is used as a parish church, is very beautiful, but loses much of its effect through the overcrowding of pews.

The great glory of Glasgow is undoubtedly its crypt, probably the finest in Britain. In it was the shrine of S. Mungo, the lady chapel, and many other altars, which must have made a scene of unsurpassed brilliance, for even to-day it is very lovely, though standing as an empty show-room for the curious tourist. Glasgow cathedral is supposed to have survived the more stormy periods of the Church's history owing to the tact of the magistrates, who are reputed to have told the mob not to injure the High Kirk till another could be built, and then went their ways with no intention whatsoever of providing another place of worship for the citizens.

Aberdeen owes its origin to a Celtic saint named Machar, who is supposed to have left Ireland with Saint Columba, gone to lona, then set forth with instructions to stop where a river should bend like a bishop's crook; so he settled on the Dee near the site of the present cathedral. The bishopric was translated from Murthlac to Aberdeen by David I about 1136. From then till the Reformation the cathedral building went slowly on - one bishop sometimes destroying the work of his predecessor in order that he might build better.

The greatest bishop was William Elphinstone (1483-1514), who finished the central tower, and founded the choir and King's College, in whose chapel he is buried. He also compiled the Breviary of Aberdeen, which was one of the first books to be printed in Scotland. The cathedral was sacked in 1560, and in 1568 the Privy Council ordered the removal of the lead from the roof that the proceeds thereof might help to keep up the army. The central tower fell in 1688 and destroyed much of the choir and transepts. The nave has always been kept in repair as a parish church, and is an interesting granite structure with western towers. Inside is the original wooden roof, dating from 1520, which is covered with the arms of the kings, nobles and bishops of the period.

The cathedral of Brechin stands in a fine situation on the edge of an abrupt valley with Brechin Castle, where Baliol resigned his kingdom to Edward I, crowning the opposite slope. The site is that of a Culdee monastery, and indeed part still remains in the round tower at the end of the South aisle. It was probably built about 990 as a bell tower and place of refuge, and is not unlike those found in Ireland, being over 100 feet high and with its doorway six feet above the ground. The rest of the cathedral is very much later in date, the next in order being First Pointed work. After the Reformation the choir was left to ruin and the nave used as a parish church. It was in this church that Bishop Whiteford mounted the pulpit one Sunday in 1637 with a couple of pistols at his belt, determined to read the liturgy prepared for Scotland by Charles I, however hostile his congregation. In 1806 the cathedral was much spoiled by an ill-advised restoration, but in 1900 this was to some extent remedied and the ruined chancel re-roofed. Though one of the smallest cathedrals, the mass of the square tower and its spire beside the tapering round tower standing over the glen is very effective.

The diocese of Caithness has its cathedral situated in the middle of the delightful little town of Dornoch, now usually associated with golf more than anything else. The cathedral, which stands on the site of a Celtic monastery, was begun in 1224 by the fourth bishop, S. Gilbert. He was called upon to fill a dangerous position, for his predecessor had been burnt in his own kitchen by the people when he tried to collect the dues which fell to him, and the bishop before that had his eyes put out and tongue removed for the same reason, but Bishop Gilbert got together a chapter and settled down to build. The cathedral which resulted was a small but well-proportioned First Pointed structure. It remained more or less untouched at the Reformation, but was burned down shortly afterwards during a clan feud. The choir and transepts were roofed, however, as the parish church. In 1836 a new nave was built and the rest restored in the bad taste then prevalent; but since its eight hundredth anniversary, in 1924, much has been done to recover the old work buried below lath and plaster.

Dunkeld is most beautifully situated amid lawns beside the Tay, while around rise rocky, wooded hills, the Birnam Wood and Dunsinane of Macbeth. The cathedral is dedicated to S. Columba, for about 850 the relics of the saint were.supposed to have been brought hither from lona by King Kenneth Macalpine. Among the bishops is William Sinclair, known as "Bruce's own Bishop," for he rallied and led an attack on a party of English invaders and drove them back to their boats. Gavin Douglas, who translated Virgil into Scots and was a notable character in his time, became Bishop of Dunkeld in 1516. The cathedral is largely fifteenth century work, though at first sight the nave with its round pillars might appear to be earlier. The choir is used as a parish church and the chapter house as a burial place of the Dukes of Atholl, while the once fine nave is in ruin.

S. Blane founded a monastery about 590 on the site of the present cathedral; thus, like so many others, Dunblane is of Culdee origin, and, again like others, was made into a bishopric in the twelfth century by David I. A Norman cathedral was built, but of it only the lower part of the tower remains, and it was not till the time of Bishop Clement in 1233 that the present structure rose. When he came to Dunblane he found the buildings in a bad state of repair and the services neglected, but proceeded to build, and by the time of his death in 1258 the cathedral may have been in large part finished. In 1322 Maurice, formerly Abbot of Inchaffry, became bishop; he is famous as the priest who sang Mass to the Scottish host before the Battle of Bannock-burn. James II was crowned at Holyrood in 1437 by the Bishop of Dunblane, Michael Ochiltree. It is a post-Reformation bishop that is best known, however, Robert Leighton, afterwards Archbishop of Glasgow, who came to Dunblane in 1661 and who was noted for a broad tolerance of opinion that was very far beyond his time.

The cathedral is one of the most beautiful in Scotland and is in an excellent state of repair. The nave was in ruin till 1893, when it was well restored by Sir Rowland Anderson. The West front, with its fine doorway and tall windows, stands at the top of the steep bank of the Allan Water, and is the subject of a now rather hackneyed eulogy by Ruskin.

It was not till 1633 that Edinburgh became a cathedral city, but in that year Charles I had a diocese of Edinburgh formed out of that part of S: Andrews lying south of the Forth and ordered that the collegiate church of S. Giles should be made the cathedral. S. Giles at that time was divided by walls into three parish churches, but some at least of these walls were removed and the Dean ordered to go to Durham in order to see how the choir should be fitted up. Such things, however, did not please the Scottish mind of the period, and it was the reading of Charles I's new prayer book in 1637 that caused within S. Giles the tumult during which the famous, if somewhat mythical, Jenny Geddes hurled her stool at the Dean's head. After the abolition of Episcopacy, S. Giles was again divided into several places of worship, and thus remained till 1881, when it was restored, and the abuse of three centuries, most notably a restoration in 1829, in some measure atoned for. The exterior is still coated in the style of 1829, except for the famous crowned tower. The interior, with its numerous aisles and chapels, is very imposing for its size, and each corner contains enough history to fill a book. At the south-east angle stands the most recent addition, the fine Chapel of the Knights of the Thistle, which was built in 1910 by Sir Robert Lorimer.

Perhaps the most imposing cathedral in the country was that of the diocese of Moray at Elgin; standing in a meadow by the river, it is still a fine sight, though now the great central tower, the nave and much of the choir has gone, leaving the ruins of the western towers flanking the magnificent thirteenth-century doorway, the East end with its rows of lancet windows and the octagonal chapter house, the latter still complete with its vaulted roof.

It was founded in 1224, but was partially destroyed more than once after that time, the most notable catastrophe being its burning by the "Wolf of Badenoch," one of King Robert II's sons who had a quarrel with the bishop. Owing to its being in a town with a large parish church the cathedral was not needed after the Reformation, and so, bit by bit, fell to ruin. However, though much has been destroyed, that which remains to-day is very beautiful and notable for its excellent detail.

The wild Highland diocese of Ross had its cathedral at Fortrose, which is situated in that fertile tract of country known as the Black Isle. A church is supposed to have been founded near by at Rosemarkie in 577 by S. Moluag, and later, in 650, S. Boniface founded one dedicated to S. Peter. However, the present cathedral was not begun till about 1250. It remained more or less intact through the troubles of the Reformation, and though the Regent Morton ordered the removal of the lead from the roof, Bishop Lindsay partly restored it in 1615.

After the Battle of Dunbar. Cromwell came north and had most of the cathedral pulled down to provide stones for a fort which he was building at Inverness. The south aisle was spared, and is complete with its vaulted roof, old effigies and font. The chapter house is also preserved, and is now used as the meeting place of the local town council, which, curiously enough, uses the same seal as did the Dean and Chapter in the same building 400 years ago. Among the Bishops of Ross was William Elphin-stone, afterwards transferred to Aberdeen, and, most famous, John Leslie, who was one of the greatest friends and helpers of Mary Queen of Scots, writing books for her to read in prison. After her death he retired to a monastery in Brussels, where at length he died.

Iona, "that illustrious Island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the. blessings of religion," as Dr. Johnson has it, with its associations with S. Columba and the western church, is in some ways the most interesting of all the cathedrals. The abbey church became the cathedral of the Isles about 1500, after the Scots found it was hopeless to return to the cathedral at Peel in the Isle of Man, from which they had been turned out some years before. It stood in ruins from the Reformation till the beginning of the present century, when it was roofed by the Church of Scotland and is used as the parish church of the island.

It was not till the latter part of the fifteenth century that Orkney came under the rule of Scotland, so that the early history of Kirkwall is connected with the Norse. S. Magnus, the patron saint, was Earl of Orkney in conjunction with his cousin Hacon, who murdered Magnus in order to get the whole earldom into his own hands. Rognvald, a nephew of Magnus, managed, however, to capture Orkney, and erected the cathedral of Kirkwall in memory of his uncle. Earl Rognvald began his cathedral in 1137, and, with the exception of the addition of a few bays at the East and West ends, it is in the fine severe Norman of the period - a great and noble building to find on the windswept Orkneys. It escaped more or less unharmed at the Reformation, and, like Glasgow, has been in continuous use till the present day. The interior, though one of the most beautiful in Scotland, is somewhat marred by the ill-placed organ recently built across the middle of the choir in a most unecclesiological position.

The cathedral of Argyll, on the island of Lismore in Loch Linnhe, is the smallest in Britain. The diocese of Argyll was founded in about 1200 and taken from the western portion of Dunkeld, which was too large and stretched southwards as far as Kintyre. The cathedral was founded about 1236 on the site of an old church built by S. Moluag in the sixth century.

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Pictures for The Old Cathedrals of Scotland

GLASGOW'S GRIM GREY CATHEDRAL. DEDICATED TO S. KENTIGERN
GLASGOW'S GRIM GREY CATHEDRAL. DEDICATED TO S. KENTIGERN >>>>
West Door of Brechin.
West Door of Brechin. >>>>
WITHIN GLASGOW CATHEDRAL: LOOKING WEST FROM THE CHOIR
WITHIN GLASGOW CATHEDRAL: LOOKING WEST FROM THE CHOIR >>>>
CHANCEL AND ROYAL PEW OF S. GILES'S, EDINBURGH
CHANCEL AND ROYAL PEW OF S. GILES'S, EDINBURGH >>>>
WEST TOWERS OF RUINED ELGIN SEEN THROUGH THE GATEWAY IN THE PRECINCT WALL
WEST TOWERS OF RUINED ELGIN SEEN THROUGH THE GATEWAY IN THE PRECINCT WALL >>>>
GREEN GRASS GROWS IN THE ROOFLESS NAVE OF ELGIN
GREEN GRASS GROWS IN THE ROOFLESS NAVE OF ELGIN >>>>
Ruined S. Andrews, the Largest of the Scottish Cathedrals
Ruined S. Andrews, the Largest of the Scottish Cathedrals >>>>
CATHEDRAL OF S. MAGNUS, KIRKWALL, AND THE BISHOPS' PALACE
CATHEDRAL OF S. MAGNUS, KIRKWALL, AND THE BISHOPS' PALACE >>>>
GREY WALLS OF WHAT WERE SCOTTISH CATHEDRALS
GREY WALLS OF WHAT WERE SCOTTISH CATHEDRALS >>>>
CONSPICUOUS SPIRE OF DORNOCH, CATHEDRAL OF THE CAITHNESS DIOCESE
CONSPICUOUS SPIRE OF DORNOCH, CATHEDRAL OF THE CAITHNESS DIOCESE >>>>

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