Grand Tour Of Scotland: Aberdeen #6

Day 5: 15 August 2019 Exploring Aberdeen

St Andrew’s Cathedral

St Andrew’s Cathedral or the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrews is a cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church situated in the Scottish city of Aberdeen. It is the see of the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney who is the Ordinary of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.

The Cathedral is known as being the church where the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Samuel Seabury was ordained in 1784. Bishop Seabury was consecrated to the episcopate in “an upper room” of the home of John Skinner, then leader of the St. Andrew’s congregation, approximately 500 meters from the present building. The site of the house used to be marked by a polished granite tablet on the wall of the former Marischal College. This has, in recent years, been moved.

The original building was designed in the perpendicular Gothic style by the architect Archibald Simpson, one of Simpson’s many commissions in the city. While three sides of the Cathedral were built out of the usual local granite, for which Aberdeen is famous, the facade of the structure, facing King Street, was built from sandstone for economical reasons despite Simpson’s opposition.

The church opened in 1817 as St Andrew’s Chapel and was raised to Cathedral status in 1914.

The Church of Scotland Cathedral Church of St Machar

I got the following information from the St Machar Website.

“A place of worship was established in this area about 580 AD and it is highly likely that it was indeed on its current location. A stone carved with a Celtic cross – a clear indication of the site’s Celtic roots  – believed to have been associated with this original church is now on display in the church.

It became a Cathedral in the 1130s when the seat of the Bishop was transferred from Mortlach, near Dufftown to Old Aberdeen under David I.  By 1165 a Norman style cathedral stood on the site.

In the 13th century the Cathedral had to undergo extensive restoration. This was started under the instruction of Bishop Cheyne (1282 to 1328). We have to thank him that the building turned out to be a fine example of a fortified Kirk.

What we do know is that shortly after the war of independence – which left its mark not just on Aberdeen (Edward III sacked it in 1336), but also on the Cathedral – construction was continued under among others Bishop Alexander Kinnimund (1355-80) and Bishop William Elphinstone (1431-1514). In his lifetime the cathedral was constructed to its biggest form. The nave and towers on the west – which form the modern church were only one part. To the east of the nave, there was a crossing which had one large central tower. There was also a choir to its east and transepts pointing north and south. In 1520 a ceiling of paneled oak bearing 48 heraldic shields was commissioned by Bishop Gavin Dunbar (1518-1532).

It must have been a glorious sight when the Church was finally complete in 1530.

It is thought that nearly 30 canons – each with their own manse – performed the religious and practical duties at the Cathedral. St Machar’s had a key role in the political but especially in the spiritual life of the North-East of Scotland.

With the reformation of 1560 change came. The Cathedral lost its status as cathedral. Its treasures were taken and its land sold. Once immediately before and during the reformation and then later when the conflict with Charles I escalated, it recovered its cathedral status.

This also sheds some light on the question why St Machar’s is referred to as Cathedral. While it is a part of the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church, which has neither bishops nor cathedrals, St Machar’s is a cathedral only by name: The Cathedral Church of St Machar. This seemingly trivial distinction is nevertheless a reminder of serious conflicts which more than once in the in the middle of the 17th century led to civil wars that engulfed Scotland, England and Ireland.

General Monck led Cromwell’s troops into Aberdeen in 1654. Looking for material for his fort he removed the stones from the empty and destroyed bishop’s palace to the east and from the disused and probably never finished choir. It is not clear if this led to a weakening of the base of the central tower. A storm in 1688 caused its fall into the transepts and crossing, and damaged the nave as well.

It took until 1953 to bring the east end into the state that it is today complete with three stained glass windows.”

Thank you very much for taking the time to join me on my travels through Scotland. I hope you enjoyed it just as much as I did.

Till next time, safe travels and keep dreaming.

Have a fabulous day.