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Forfarshire
Chapter 19. - Architecture—(a) Ecclesiastical


The monastic institutions of Scotland were founded by David I and his successors in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Some of the Forfarshire ecclesiastical foundations were peopled from abbeys in the south of Scotland: Arbroath from Kelso, Restenneth from Jedburgh, and Coupar Angus from Melrose. Arbroath Abbey was founded by William the Lion in 1178. In 1233 it was dedicated to the memory of Thomas Becket. It was destroyed by fire in 1559. Long regarded as a quarry, its vast ruins as now preserved attest the extent of the great building and the beauty of its architecture, the First Pointed style, of which it is a fine example. The western doorway, with a beautiful rose window, now gone, led into the nave, 270 feet long. In front of the high altar is the supposed grave of the founder. The gable of the south transept, still fairly entire, has a window, the famous Round O of Arbroath, a landmark seen far out at sea and for centuries a guide to mariners. The north-west tower, the highest part of the church now standing, rises to a height of 103 feet, but four pillars situated at the point where nave and transepts meet sustained the great central tower, which was probably 150 feet high. The south wall of the nave is still standing. An interesting accessory of the building is the Abbot’s House, or Abbey House, still entire; while the Gateway, or Abbey Pend, is a picturesque fragment.

Of the old religious houses of Forfarshire, the only one still fit to use as a place of worship is Brechin Cathedral. About ten years ago, its ruined parts were rebuilt, its long hidden beauties and graces were restored to view, and the whole edifice was thoroughly renovated. The cathedral was the work of more than one age : its architecture is partly Early English and partly Decorated Gothic and it also exhibits the French flamboyant style. The nave measures 140 feet by 58 feet and is adorned with two rows of pillars and five arches on each side. The western door is elaborately carved, and the graceful mullions and tracery of its windows are very fine. At the north-west corner rises a massive square tower strengthened by buttresses and surrounded by a battlement, the whole surmounted by an octagonal steeple the pinnacle of which attains the height of 128 feet. A smaller tower on the north-east corner of the large tower contains the spiral stair by which the bartizan is reached.

From time immemorial the site occupied by the cathedral has been “a holy place”: pagans, Culdees, Romanists, episcopalians, presbyterians have in succeeding ages worshipped there in older fanes or in that which still occupies the ground. Christianity was first introduced there by Columba’s missionaries. King Nechtan, who favoured Romish Christianity, expelled the Columban monks in the eighth century; Kenneth III “gave Brechin to the Lord ”; and Malcolm II is said to have founded the monastery. David I appointed the first Bishop of Brechin and, as he did not suppress the Culdees in Brechin, for long there seems to have been the somewhat incongruous combination of a Romish bishop and a Culdee chapter of monks. No fewer than twenty-three churches and chapels were attached to this influential bishopric.

The most interesting ecclesiastical relic in Brechin is, however, the Round Tower. Long detached from the cathedral, and how much older than it no one knows, the Round Tower occupies a site close by on the southwest; and indeed the two buildings are now united. The purpose originally served by the Round Tower, its builders, and its age are puzzles that may probably never be satisfactorily solved. The only building like it in Scotland is the Round Tower of Abernethy, but there are many examples in Ireland. The Brechin Round Tower is a much more perfect building than that of Abernethy. Its circumference at the bottom is 47 feet 11 inches, and at the top 40 feet 10 inches; and the tower proper is crowned with a tower 18 feet 9 inches high, the total height of the building being no feet. There is an interesting doorway near the bottom and facing the west. The interior consists of seven storeys reached by a series of ladders.

A mile to the east of Forfar are the remains of Restenneth Priory, situated on what was an island till the little loch was drained. The Priory belonged to the thirteenth century and was a cell of Jedburgh Abbey. An earlier church is said to have existed here, one of three—Invergowrie, Tealing, and Restenneth—founded by St Boniface in the seventh century. Dr Stuart, the eminent antiquary, believed the square tower, which at a later period was crowned with an octagonal spire, to be part of the original church. If this is correct, the church must be one of the oldest ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland.

Dundee possessed several important monasteries, though scarcely a trace now remains of them. The Howff, or old burying-ground, was the site of the Grey Friars, the earliest religious house in Dundee. Opposite the foot of South Tay Street, where the chief Roman Catholic church in Dundee now stands, was the monastery of the Red Friars. On the west side of Barrack Street (formerly Friars’ Vennel), facing what would be the monastery of the Grey Friars, stood that of the Dominicans or Black Friars. Of the Dundee nunneries one was situated between Bank Street and Overgate, its buildings being taken down in 1869; and the other, perhaps at the foot of Step Row, remains in name, at least, in the Magdalen Green. Montrose also had a monastery and perhaps a nunnery, while the existence of several chapels is inferred simply from the names of lanes and streets.

Many of the modern churches of the larger towns in Forfarshire furnish examples of various styles of architecture. The graceful spire (1832-34) of the parish church of Montrose, 220 feet high, is a striking- and pleasing object in the landscape. In Brechin two handsome churches are the Gardner Memorial Parish Church and the new Maison Dieu United Free Church, while the early Gothic style is finely exemplified in the Bank Street United Free Church. The parish church of Arbroath, built in 1590 with materials taken from the Abbey Dormitory, had a handsome Gothic spire, one of the finest of its kind in Scotland, added to it in 1831. When the church was destroyed by fire in 1892, the spire fortunately escaped destruction. St Mary’s Episcopal Church, a good Gothic building with a spire, is noteworthy. The parish church of Forfar is conspicuous by its handsome spire, 150 feet high. The English Episcopal Church of St John the Evangelist, in the Early English style, is one of the finest edifices in the county town. Only 40 feet of the spire (its projected height is 163 feet) have yet been completed. The parish church of Kirriemuir, a handsome edifice built in 1786, has a neat spire. In Dundee and its residential suburb, Broughty Ferry, are many fine modern churches. The “Old Steeple” forms a belfry to a group of three Established churches, the most easterly of which, St Mary’s, is the parish church of Dundee. Towering high above all the ecclesiastical edifices of the city and district, the magnificent Gothic spire of the Cathedral Church of St Paul’s, the seat of the Bishop of Brechin, rises to a height of 210 feet. It is built on the site of the ancient Castle of Dundee, and was erected in 1855, the architect being Sir Gilbert Scott.


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