Rebus author meets Burke and Hare

Tuesday 25 November 2008

 Bestselling crime author Ian Rankin came face to face with infamous Edinburgh body snatchers Burke and Hare when he opened the new Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) today (Tuesday 25 November 2008).

An honorary graduate of the University, Ian was met by the `life masks’ of the serial killers and grave robbers when he opened the £2M museum that showcases the unseen treasures of the University’s near 600 year history.

Fife-born Ian, whose latest novel ‘Doors Open’ is set in the National Gallery of Scotland, took a tour of the building which tells the story of Scotland’s oldest University through its collection of over 112,000 artefacts.  Treasures such as the University’s three mediaeval maces, usually seen only at graduation ceremonies, are exhibited alongside paintings, medals, and rare books and manuscripts across four galleries.

The museum also features famous figures associated with the University, such as former students, staff and Rectors.  These include the founder of St Salvator’s College, Bishop Kennedy, Rectors J. M. Barrie and John Cleese, and Olympic champion Chris Hoy.  Since opening its doors last month, the museum has already received over 4000 visitors.

The event marked familiar territory for Rebus author Ian, as he witnessed the murder of Archbishop Sharp – or at least the life-sized painting by John Opie which depicts the murder and was acquired by the University specifically for its purpose-built museum.

‘The Death of Archbishop Sharpe’, a striking 1797 oil painting, depicts the assassination of James Sharp, who was Archbishop of St Andrews and Chancellor of the University from 1661 until his violent death in 1679.  The former Presbyterian minister was ordered by King Charles II to enforce Episcopalianism in Scotland, which led to his murder by a group of Presbyterian Fife Lairds on Magus Muir, near St Andrews.

Purchased from a private collector in New York last year, the acquisition is the first historical painting by Opie to be held in a Scottish museum.  It was acquired by the University in 2007 with financial assistance from a private donor, The Binks Trust, The Art Fund and The National Fund for Acquisitions.

The extraordinary life masks of serial killers Burke and Hare have come from the University’s Anatomy Museum at the Bute Medical School.  The plaster mask of Irish immigrant William Burke is dated 1829, little over a year after the infamous Burke and Hare murders began and the year of his death by hanging, aged 37.  The Hare mask is a copy of the original, purchased in 2001 by the University to complete the pair.

MUSA was made possible by a near half a million pound grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of private and charitable donations.  The funding allowed the University to preserve and display some of its oldest and most significant collections together in one location for the first time.

Artefacts on permanent public display include a stained glass window by Thomas Chalmers from St Salvator’s College Chapel, college silver, an oil painting by Scottish Colourist Samuel Peploe, and a set of 70 silver archery medals won by students between 1618 and the 1750s.

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland said, ‘The story of this important seat of learning and how it has influenced the lives of students, staff and townsfolk can now be conserved and celebrated with the opening of this fascinating museum.  We are delighted to have helped make that happen.’

MUSA is open Thursday to Sunday, 12-4pm until March.  From March until September it will open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12-4pm.  For further information visit:





Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, Mobile: 07900 050 103 or email: [email protected]

Ref:  MUSA opening 24/11/08
View the latest University press releases at

Category University news

Related topics

Share this story