Conserved by experts, hoisted through scaffolding and placed under dramatic lights, a set of medieval stones are going back on view in ElginBishop Archibald of Moray, one of the most powerful people in medieval Scotland, enlarged and enhanced Elgin Cathedral after a disastrous fire tore through its precinct in 1270, sneaking his tomb close to the high altar in the wall of the choir at the enlarged, enhanced church.
He was duly buried there, beneath his brightly painted effigy, in 1298. But the effigy won’t have been seen in public for 20 years before it goes back on show this Friday.
“Experts think its prime location close to the high altar could mean the tomb was used as an ‘Easter Sepulchre’,” says Fiona Fleming, an Interpretation Manager for Historic Environment Scotland, which has consulted with academics and museum experts on a £300,000 drive to reinterpret the cathedral story.
“This means it may have been used to consecrate Communion bread by placing it in the tomb recess on Good Friday and guarding it for three days, before being ‘resurrected’ on Easter Sunday. One of the most interesting things about researching the stones is that we’ve been able to gain some insight into how ordinary people may have ‘read’ the carvings.
“We’ve found ourselves decoding messages that could be contained within the stones – from moral lessons drawn from the wonders of nature to hidden surprises and startling warnings against sin. But we will never have all the answers, especially without knowing where the stones were situated in the cathedral.”
The undead bishop is part of more than 100 ancient carved stones over eight rooms, including flora and fauna, lions and lizards and a section of a 13th century rose window, all theatrically lit to expose the carvings as they probably looked when they were first finished. Specialists analysed tiny traces of paint on the relics.
“We’re inviting people to ponder different possibilities in deciding what these carvings may have meant to medieval visitors before them,” says Fleming. Many of the stones were too huge to be carried up the cathedral’s narrow stairs, instead requiring hoisting through scaffolding built around each tower.
- Display opens on March 25 2016. Open 9.30am-5.30pm.
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Three medieval sites to see in Scotland
Castle Fraser, Inverurie
Approaching Castle Fraser down the Broad Walk, the granite walls rising up to the distinctive turrets make an imposing sight. As you venture through the castle and up to the round tower, with its panoramic views of the gardens and estate beyond, you get a sense of life from the medieval to the Victorian period.
Dryburgh Abbey, near St Boswells
The abbey buildings were destroyed by fire three times and ravaged by war on four occasions but fine examples of ecclesiastic architecture and masonry remain, and its chapter house reveals plaster and paintwork dating back to its inception.
Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire
Ghosts, legends and folklore are all woven into the tapestry of Fyvie’s 800-year history. Each tower of this magnificent Scottish Baronial fortress is traditionally associated with one of the castle’s five successive families – Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Forbes-Leith.