Friday, July 20, 2018

The Lantern of the North ~ Elgin Cathedral

The ornament of the realm, the glory of the kingdom,
the delight of foreigners and stranger guests,
an object of praise in foreign lands.

~Bishop Alexander Bur (1362-97) on Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral 
"The Lantern of the North"
Established 1224

After having spent the morning at Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns, we headed east near the coast for town of Elgin, in Moray Scotland. Because we had run out of time to see the ruins of the Border Cathedrals, I was not about to miss Elgin!

It's only 34 miles on the A96 and should have taken less than an hour from Culloden Moor. I'm not sure why but we hit some traffic and it took longer than we'd planned. 
My Travel Journal

Anyway, when we arrived the nice man at the cathedral directed us to a place to park and eat. He did this while standing in the rain. I noticed this happened a lot in Scotland. You would go inside and ask for directions and they'd follow you out and stand there in the rain giving you directions. It cracked me up! Why not stand in the doorway? I'm guessing they are used to it but it was still amusing.

Anyway, he directed us into the park next to the Cathedral for tea and snacks and then we walked back over. I've mentioned in previous posts the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. This is another landmark in which that pass gives you entry. It was definitely worth it!

A beautiful Gaelic lament for the post. Please press play.

Elgin Cathedral was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and was the principal church of the bishops of Moray.  The Land was granted by King Alexander II (King of Scots from 1214-1249) close to the River Lossie. 

It was expanded and rebuilt after fires in the late 13th and 14th centuries but it was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation of 1560. The lead that waterproofed the roof was removed 7 years later and then it began to fall into a state of ruin. 

Even in its present state of ruin you can see it is one of Scotland's most beautiful medieval architectural works. Somehow the weather during our visit made it feel even more lovely and poetic.

From Historic Environment Scotland:
"The monumentally impressive building dominated the flat and fertile Laich of Moray from the time it was built. It continued to do so even after its demise at the Protestant Reformation of 1560.
Work began on the cathedral in the first half of the 1200s, but it is the product of three main building phases. Even as a ruin, the cathedral still boasts plenty of detail that tells of its development and embellishment.


The cathedral was once richly carved and adorned with stained glass and painted decoration. A fine collection of architectural fragments hints at the building’s lost beauty, while documentary evidence sheds light on religious life at Elgin. The cathedral was the spiritual heart of the diocese of Moray."
When you enter into the cathedral there is an exhibition of old stonework and this guy below, if you craned your neck, had all his anatomical parts. It was too dimly lit for a photo so you'll have to use your imagination! (Besides, wouldn't that be unseemly?)

An old Pictish stone from the 800s found nearby!

Face A bears a cross on a broad rectangular plinth, which effectively divides the face into two panels. The cross is outlined by roll mouldings, including its central disc, and the small circular armpits are sunken. The cross is filled with interlinking panels of zoomorphic interlace, but the basal plinth appears to have been plain. In the background are four evangelists with their symbols. Below the cross is a single panel filled with four intertwined and biting quadrupeds.

The view from the other side. It's hard to see the carvings here so I included a link at the bottom of this post with illustrations of the symbols on the stone.

At the top of the single panel on face C is a square containing back-to-back pairs of double spirals, flanked by serpentine motifs, above two ornate Pictish symbols: double disc and Z-road above crescent and V-rod. Below them is a hunting scene, facing left, with at least four horsemen, one of them armed, with the pre-eminent rider at the top with a bird of prey behind him on his out-stretched left arm. A large bird, perhaps the prey, stands in front of the rider’s horse. There is also a stag being harried by a hound, and at least two other hounds."

Apparently, you can walk up stairs into that front part of the church (above) for a view of the ruins and of the town but we were content to wander in the ruins until they closed up for the day.

There were only a few visitors that day and it was nice to be there when it was so quiet. It felt like a sacred space.

The Chapter House

There was medieval music playing inside. It felt very mystical!

My mom and I stood by the center column, closed our eyes and sang an "om" into the rafters ...

She took this photo of me (below). In fact, some of these photos were hers. I'd ended up using my iPhone quite a bit and she would take the big Digital SLR camera to shoot with.

And then we were off again, through the park ...

The park was lush and wet with pretty blooms ...

Elgin looked like a cute town to explore and just south are the Scotch distilleries of Speyside. In fact, there are busses you can take down to some of the distilleries so if you are staying in Elgin that would be safe way to go. The drinking and driving laws in Scotland are very strict!

We headed back to Inverness in the rain. It was our last night in the area before heading west to the Isle of Skye so it was a perfect evening for an incredible dinner at Rocpool. Quite possibly our best meal of the trip! (Don't forget to call ahead for a reservation!)

As I mentioned in my first post of the Highlands, I felt I could live there for a while, in Inverness. I hope that I can go back one day.

Elgin Cathedral- Historic Environment Scotland
Pictish Slab -
Explorer Pass - Historic Scotland

Sorry for the absence, by the way! I got very sidetracked! My next post will be leaving Inverness, an authentic Highland Games and the glorious drive through Glen Shiel!

Blessings and light!