Mediaeval treasures could be uncovered by new research

Monday 24 October 2011

Seton, a collegiate church in East Lothian founded in the later 15th century by the Lords Seton, which is now in the care of the state.

A project led by the University of St Andrews could help preserve historically valuable medieval churches in Scotland.

The scheme aims to discover which churches in Scotland are survivors of the Reformation.

A pilot for the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches project has already analysed 105 buildings in the dioceses of Dunkeld and Dunblane.

But now a grant of £490,656 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will allow the architectural and documentary evidence for the 258 parishes in the dioceses of St Andrews and Brechin to be similarly logged.

This second phase is expected to take three years, starting in March 2012.

The aim is to eventually create a website archive – freely accessible – of all buildings and sites, and their documentation, associated with mediaeval parish churches in Scotland.

Dysart Church

Dysart Church in Fife, which probably dates largely from the mid-15th century; it was abandoned in 1802 and is now a roofless shell apart from the tower.

Many religious buildings fell into disrepair and disuse after the Reformation and it’s hoped the move will vastly enhance the understanding of this previously neglected aspect of the medieval church.

Principal Investigator is Professor Richard Fawcett of the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews whose book, Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church 1100-1560, was published earlier this year.

He said: “For too long these important buildings have been neglected in terms of documenting their historical and cultural value.

“We are tremendously pleased that our work on the medieval parish churches of Scotland has been considered worthy of such a substantial grant, and we are extremely grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the vote of confidence that this represents.

“We hope this ‘catalogue’ will help preserve these very important buildings.”

The co-investigators are Professor Richard Oram of the History and Politics Division of the University of Stirling and Dr Julian Luxford of the School of Art History of the University of St Andrews.

Professor Richard Oram, Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to raise public awareness of unique but often neglected architectural gems from our past.  I’m most looking forward to unravelling the structural history of some of Scotland’s greatest medieval buildings and potentially rediscovering ‘lost histories’ for some of the lesser-known ones.

“This project will enable us to focus for the first time on a group of buildings that were central to the lives of the entire population – not just the great and the good – and enable us to see how they developed over time, how those developments reflected changes in our ancestors’ expressions of religious faith, and how individuals shaped the development of the buildings.”

The funding will enable a PhD studentship to be based at St Andrews, which will focus on the architecture of the Scottish collegiate churches, as well as a post-doctoral researcher, based at Stirling.

The first phase of the Corpus project has already provided benefits to both academic and non-academic bodies.

And it is anticipated that the findings of the project’s second phase will be valuable to community, church and heritage groups, as well as to councils and other stakeholders with a role in the use and preservation of these buildings and sites.


Note to Editors

The pilot phase of this project, which covered the 105 parish churches in the dioceses of Dunkeld and Dunblane, was funded by the AHRC in 2008-2009.

The corpus is available at

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108 / 0771 414 0559.
Ref: (churches23/10/11)
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