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In the bustling manufacturing town which has lately become, and is likely for some time to remain, the extreme northern point of our great system of railway communication, a venerable cathedral, surrounded by trees, with a pleasant river sweeping past it, is scarcely an expected sight. But the two divisions of Aberdeen—the old and the new town—are as unlike each other as Canterbury and Manchester. The old town, or “Alton,” as it is locally termed, is not the most ancient part of a city of different periods, around which its modern streets and squares have ramified. It is a distinct hamlet or village, at some distance from the city, and edged away in privacy apart from the great thoroughfares connecting the manufacturing centre with other districts of the country. Its houses are venerable, standing generally in ancient gardens; and save that the beauty and tranquillity of the spot have led to the erection of a few pleasant modern villas, dotting it here and there, whoever treads the one echoing street of the Alton for the first time, feels that two centuries must have brought very little external change to the objects by which he is surrounded. In this pristine place, the short-spiked steeples, and the broad-slated roof, of the old cathedral of St Machar may be seen rising over a cluster of fine old trees which top the sloping bank of the winding Don, from the opposite shore of which the whole scene-comprehending the river, the sloping banks, the trees, and the grey old church-makes a very perfect landscape, rather English than Scottish in its aspect.
A near approach develops something very peculiar in the character of this edifice. It bears throughout unmistakeable marks of age, but none of decay. It is grey with the weather-wearing of centuries, but it displays none of the mouldering vestiges of Time's decaying fingers; nor yet has it that prim air of good keeping which shows, in treasured antiquities, that careful hands have sedulously restored each feature that age may have injured. It is clear that the completeness of detail—the clean outlines—the hard, unworn surfaces-are characteristics of innate strength, and connect themselves with the causes of a certain northern sternness and rigidity in the general architectural design.
The secret of all these peculiarities is to be found in the nature of the material, which is granite—the same that has handed down to us, through thousands of years, the cold stony eyes of the sphynx, precisely as the chisel last touched them—and retains, to the wonder of the Londoners, the glittering lustre of the polished cheeks of Rameses. The stern nature of the primitive rockobdurate alike to the chisel and to time-has entirely governed the character of the architecture; and, while it has precluded lightness and decoration, has given opportunities for a certain gloomy dignity. About the porch, one or two niches, and other small details, have been decorated; but, as if the artist had abandoned the task of chiselling his obdurate materials as a vain one, ornament goes no farther, and all the architectural effects are the fruit of bold design. Such, for instance, is the great west window-not mullioned, but divided by long massive stone shafts into seven arched compartments; such, too, is the low-browed doorway beneath, with its heavy semicircular arch. The upper tier of windows-here called storm windows, perhaps as a corruption of dormer—are
THE CATHEDRAL OF ST MACHAR, ABERDEEN, 1–4.
THE CATHEDRAL OF ST MACHAR, ABERDEEN.
the plain unmoulded arch, such as one sometimes sees it in unadorned buildings of the earlier Norman period. Indeed, though the building dates from the second age of the pointed style, it associates itself, in some of its features, very closely with the relics of the Norman age, especially in the short massive round pillars which support the clerestory. The roof, with its carving, gilding, and bright heraldic colours, is in thorough contrast with the rest of the architecture, and the eye gratefully relieves itself from the gloom below, by wandering over its quaint devices and gaudy hues. It is divided into three longitudinal departments, pannelled with richly carved oak; and at each intersection of the divisions of the compartments with the cross-beams, there is emblazoned a shield armorial, with an inscription.
It is an uncommon thing to find, as in this instance we do, the nave only of a church remaining, for the chancel was generally the part first erected, and sometimes the only part. The remains of the central and eastern portions of St Machar's tell how the western compartment braved the causes of destruction which to them had been fatal : they were built of freestone. Incrusted, as it
as it were, in the eastern wall, are the clustered freestone pillars, with richly flowered capitals, which of old supported the central square tower; and on either side are the vestiges of the transept, with the remains of the richly sculptured tombs, represented in the accompanying plate, embedded in the wall. In Slezer's, and some other representations of this building in the seventeenth century, the tower—a simple square mass, with a roof-appears to have been still standing, but the choir had disappeared.
MACHAR, who is not to be confounded with the St Macarius of Wirtzberg, was one of the earliest Scoto-Irish missionaries and saints. The legends of the church, indeed, bear that he was a contemporary of St Columba, by whom he was directed to proceed northward, preaching and converting, until the appointed place for his fixing his abode, and erecting a temple, should be indicated to him by the phenomenon of a stream forming in its windings the likeness of a crosier. It would not be very difficult to find a spot to which this description could apply: the missionary rested on the bank of the river Don; and the spot which he thus sanctified was, after the fashion of the district, called Aberdon.* Some followers of St Columba, passing into places still farther remote, erected a church in the yet obscure valley of Mortlach. It is usually said that a bishopric was here founded by Malcolm II., and that it was afterwards transferred to Aberdeen ; but there are grave reasons for doubting the truth of this statement, and the authenticity of the documents by which it may have been supported. The bishopric of Aberdeen was at all events founded by David I. He endowed it with many of the estates of the Culdees; and indeed its erection was one of the operations by which he subjected those primitive communities to the authority of Rome. In 1150, Edward, probably the first bishop, is found endowed with the church of Mortlach, and its town and monastery. The early wealth of this remote see is shown by Bishop Alexander Kynninmond, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, raising episcopal residences at Mortlach, Fetternear, and Nairn. His successor, of the same name, entered on his dignity in evil days. In
* Breviar. Abred., 12 Nov. Registrum Episcopal. Abred., X. + See the subject ably examined in the Preface to the Registrum.
# Registrum, &c., xiv.
THE CATHEDRAL OF ST MACHAR, ABERDEEN.
the course of the English war of invasion, the cathedral, like so many other Scottish ecclesiastical edifices, had been laid in the dust. Its reconstruction began in 1357.* An indenture between the bishop and the chapter is still extant, where, for the conducting of the works, the former resigns all the second tithes, with the revenue of St Nicholas Church, its fishing excepted, and the chapter obliges itself to pay to the master of works sixty pounds sterling annually for ten years.† In 1380, the same zealous bishop obtained bulls granting indulgences in favour of all who might visit his cathedral in devotional pilgrimage, and contribute to the erection of the nave, so that the choir would appear to have been then completed. I It appears that a stone roof and a pavement were furnished by Bishop Ingleram, in the middle of the fifteenth century. $ The west front and the small towers had been begun by Bishop Leighton, who was translated from the see in 1424, but were not finished till the episcopacy of Gavin Dunbar, which began in 1518. || The north transept was attributed to Leighton, whose tomb, in a richly decorated freestone niche, still contains a poor fragment of the pontifical statue: it is represented in the accompanying plate. The north transept was built by Bishop Dunbar, and also contained his tomb, a fragment of which still exists.
But the great ornament and benefactor of the see was the good Bishop William Elphinstone, whose pontificate commenced in 1484—a statesman and patron of letters, who served in the offices of Lord Chancellor and Privy Seal, and deserved still better of his country by founding the University of King's College. We are told that he finished the tower, and covered in the whole roof with lead; but that, unfortunately, he was cut off ere he completed the projected erection of a new choir. Much is said also by his enthusiastic biographer of his gifts to the vestry, reliquary, and treasury-of copes of white linen embroidered with gold, two mitres, certain chalices and precious jewels. I Evidence of the still earlier accumulation of treasures, in this remote cathedral, may be found. As for instance, when, in 1403, Robert III. presents it with a silver shrine containing a fragment of the cross of St Andrew, a piece of arras hanging representing the three kings of Cologne, &c.** The traditional and contemporary accounts of the great riches of this cathedral, of the magnificent vestry, the precious jewels and the abundance of bullion, would seem to be fabulous were they not attested by existing inventories, which make us wonder at that moral strength which enabled feeble priests to preserve such objects in the midst of a starving, ravenous, and ferocious aristocracy. The following are of the kind of entries, which make a long inventory
Item, a great Eucharist, double over gilt, 14 pound 2 ounce, artificiall wroght.
and 2 rubies of B. Dunbar's gift, of 52 ounces.tt
The fate of all this wealth is thus recorded by the indignant Father Hay. “In 1560, the Barons of Mernes, accompanied with some of the townsmen of Aberdeen, having demolished the monasteries of the black and grey friars, fell to rob the cathedrale, which they spoiled of all its costly ornaments and jewels, and demolished the chancell: they stripped the lead, bells, and other utensils, intending to expose them to sale in Holland; but all this ill gotten wealth sunk, by the just judgement of God, not far from the Girdleness. The body of the cathedrale,” he continues," was pre
* Orem-Description of the Chanonry, p. 40. Il Orem, p. 40.
** Registrum, xxxv.
+ Registrum, &c., xxi. # Ib. xxii.
§ Ib. xl. 1 Boëtius, Episcoporum Murth. et Aberdonen. Vitae, fol. 30.
++ Registrum, &c., Lxxviii.