Elgin Cathedral

Chapter House Ceiling, Elgin Cathedral
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Chapter House Ceiling,  Elgin Cathedral

Once described as 'the most beautiful of Scotland's mediaeval cathedrals', the great three-towered Elgin Cathedral was founded in 1244 by Alexander II as the seat of the Bishopric of Moray. It was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and replaced the former foundation at Spynie to the north. The transepts, west towers and parts of the choir and nave survived a fire in 1270 and after extensive rebuilding the cathedral survived until 1390 when its was burnt along with the towns of Elgin and Forres by Alexander Stewart, the 'Wolf of Badenoch' in a vendetta with the Bishop of Moray who had excommunicated him for deserting his wife. Extensively rebuilt during the 15th Century, the cathedral was vandalised during the Reformation. Worship transferred to St. Giles Kirk in the town of Elgin and the cathedral eventually fell into ruin. Much of the roof blew off in 1637 and the central tower collapsed, destroying much of the nave, in 1711. From the early 19th C. the value of the cathedral was at last appreciated and the architect Robert Reid (1774 - 1856) was asked to report on how the ruin could be stabilised. A local keeper was appointed to maintain the grounds and give tours to visitors in 1807.

Today, the cathedral is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland, who have undertaken an extensive programme of conservation. The Chapter House has survived well and has been restored for quiet contemplation, the mood set by mediaeval music. The tombs of the Bishops of Moray can still be seen along the aisles.

Opposite lies a building known as the 'Bishop's House', which was most likely home to the Precentor, in charge of cathedral music. The palace of the Bishops of Moray remained at Spynie and its extensive ruins can still be seen.

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