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2013 Rhind Lecture 2: “Still looking to England” by Richard Fawcett

Second of the 2013 Rhind Lectures by Professor Richard Fawcett entitled “‘magnificent for the beauty and extent of its buildings and worthy of everlasting fame’ – the architecture of the Scottish late medieval Church”.

‘magnificent for the beauty and extent of its buildings and worthy of everlasting fame’ – the architecture of the Scottish late medieval Church

The 2013 Rhind Lectures by Professor Richard Fawcett
3rd to 5th May 2013

Lecture 2: Still looking to England
When major church building became viable once again in the later fourteenth century, those responsible were forced to give very careful thought to where ideas should be sought in working out the most acceptable designs for their new churches. Scotland was now on very uneasy terms with England, the country with which it had previously enjoyed the closest architectural relationships. Beyond that, in the period since hostilities had broken out, that southern neighbour had developed a highly individual architectural idiom that was unlike what was to be seen elsewhere in Europe, and that must have seemed very alien to Scottish eyes. Nevertheless, with the start of rebuilding at the great abbey church of Melrose, it was decided to adopt that English idiom, almost certainly at the hands of a mason from south of the border. But this approach was soon to be abandoned at Melrose itself, and English ideas were to be followed at few other buildings.

Lecture 1 was not recorded due to a technical failure: Church architecture before the late 14th century
The revival of the Church in the early twelfth century had resulted in an extraordinary expansion of architectural activity. Under David I, in particular, a monarch with a close personal awareness of church building in England, many of the major new churches in the lowland areas must have been designed and built by masons from parts of England with which David was familiar. Although Scottish patrons and masons were soon to develop their own architectural preferences, there continued to be a close exchange of artistic ideas with the southern kingdom throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There was, however, to be a dramatic change following the outbreak of a devastatingly extended period of warfare in the 1290s, which limited architectural opportunities for many decades and then led on to a re-evaluation of artistic relationships.

The Lectures
The church architecture of late medieval Scotland is particularly fascinating because it is so unlike what is to be seen elsewhere, either within the British Isles or across continental Europe. Indeed, it can be argued that the buildings erected between the later years of the fourteenth century and the middle years of the sixteenth should be regarded as representing the first phase in the nation’s architectural history during which an approach to architectural design took shape that is uniquely Scottish. And yet, for all its distinctive appearance, it was certainly not the result of cultural isolation, but was instead the consequence of a new openness to a wide range of sources of inspiration, including many drawn from mainland Europe. In this series of lectures the likely origins of these ideas will be explored as a prelude to considering how an altogether original architectural synthesis emerged.

The Rhind Lecturer
Richard Fawcett, who is now a part-time professor in the School of Art History of the University of St Andrews, spent most of his career in the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments of Historic Scotland, dealing with the conservation, interpretation and presentation of architectural monuments and buildings. While retaining wider interests, his present research is largely focused on the medieval architecture of Scotland, and especially on the sources of the ideas current in the later middle ages. He has published widely on many aspects of architectural history, and his most recent book is The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church (Yale University Press, 2011). He is Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches research project. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Societies of Antiquaries of London and Scotland. He was appointed OBE in 2008.

Recorded in the Royal Society of Edinburgh.