Death and life of churches in 18th century Scotland

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

Churches across Europe have undergone radical transformations, abandonment, collapses, reconstructions and the study of the processes in detail can reveal the attitudes of communities rather than individual patrons or designers to restoration of their period. 17th and 18th century in Scotland sees a definite transition from medieval to early modern practices in church architecture alongside the establishment of Reformation rituals. Renovation was often triggered by failure of the existing structure due to inappropriate interventions or accidents. It is worthy then to investigate the extent past structural schemes were not understood any more, making their maintenance or upgrading inadequate. Discussing where a reconstruction followed and in what relationship with the previous design provides further clues how the past was read and whether its values were worthy transmitting to the contemporaries.
The exploration is based on architectural analysis and the stories behind significant events in Scottish churches of the time: the collapse of Holyrood Abbey church in 1768 following an inadequate roof substitution reveals how poor budget, poor understanding, architectural ambition and lack of a community can cause disaster (the building never recovered); St. Machar in Aberdeen did not recover the loss of fabric from the Civil War and a storm in 1688 until 1953, while strong vision sustained a continuity of radical transformations in neighbouring St. Nicholas, from the failure of the West Church in 1732 onwards; the fatal collapse of Fearn Abbey in 1742 brought about a peculiar succession of reconstructions that highlighted the parishioners love for their antique church. Instead, St. Salvator’s roof was demolished once deemed unsafe in 1773.
Practice aspects of the emerging architectural profession are also shown in the condition surveys before collapse (William Adam for St Nicholas, William Mylne for Holyrood, James Craig for St. Salvator). Finally, the cases are discussed within the British context of 18C major restorations in Ely, Lincoln, Durham and Beverly cathedrals, and the impact of such events into contemporary church building.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2015
EventReading Architecture Across the Arts and Humanities - Stirling, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Dec 20156 Dec 2015


ConferenceReading Architecture Across the Arts and Humanities
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • 18th century
  • church architecture
  • Collapse
  • Holyrood Abbey
  • Aberdeen
  • John Douglas


Dive into the research topics of 'Death and life of churches in 18th century Scotland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this