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2013 Rhind lecture 6: “The Scottish architectural synthesis ” by Richard Fawcett

Final 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 6: The Scottish architectural synthesis
For much of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it could be said that, despite intermittent cross-border difficulties, lowland Scotland and northern England were in many respects a single architectural province. Although this close relationship broke down with the outbreak of the wars with England, no other country was ever to take the architectural place that the southern neighbour had once occupied. What we see instead is a process by which those responsible for building Scotland’s churches drew ideas from a wide range of sources, with the aim of creating an architectural vocabulary that was closely suited to the nation’s artistic and spiritual needs. The synthesis that emerged is to be seen on an impressive scale in major churches such as Dunkeld Cathedral and Paisley Abbey. At a time when the search for salvation was becoming a more personal matter, however, the architectural synthesis is perhaps most attractively evident in a new generation of collegiate churches and in the parish churches of the great trading burghs, where lay folk were increasingly choosing to make provision for the prayers they regarded as essential for the ultimate welfare of their souls. The architecture of such as Seton Collegiate Church and of St Mary’s Parish Church at Haddington is clearly the result of a rich interchange of ideas, and nothing quite like them is to be seen elsewhere in Europe. Together they, and all others of their kind, represent a noble achievement that deserves to be explored and understood.

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.