St. Machar Cathedral & Kings College Chapel, Old Burgh Aberdeen

“Hey! Wait just a minute; I thought you said you were returning home and wouldn’t be posting any new travel blog entries for a while!” you might be saying.

I did say that after all, and honestly, I thought I was done for the time being, but like usual, Lindsay had other ideas on the last day I was in Scotland, Saturday, October 29th. We didn’t travel far at all. In fact, we stayed right in Aberdeen.  He took me around the University of Aberdeen campus, showing me the various buildings, departments, etc., and then, after winding our way down an old cobbled street in Old Burgh Aberdeen, we stopped in front of this place, the King’s College Chapel.  It’s a special place for him, in particular, because this is where he and his lovely wife, Helen, were married many years ago.


img_2898We didn’t go inside to investigate but drove a bit further down the same street to visit a much larger Cathedral – St. Machar.

We arrived in perfect time as well; a wedding was just coming to a close, and the bride and groom were getting a few last photos opps out of the way before zooming off for the reception in a beautiful Bentley waiting outside the gates for them!


First, we strolled through all of the old headstones and around the outside of the massive structure.  This ancient site of worship was founded about 580 AD by Machar, a companion of St. Columba of Iona.  It became a cathedral church in 1131.  The present building dates from about 1350.

A fourteenth-century legend tells how God (or St. Columba) told Machar to establish a church where a river bends into the shape of a bishop’s crosier before flowing into the sea. The River Don turns in this way just below where the Cathedral now stands. Machar’s church was superseded by a Norman cathedral in 1131, shortly after David I transferred the See from Mortlach to Aberdeen. Almost nothing of the original Cathedral survives, a lozenge-decorated base for a capital supporting one of the architraves.

The stones below were absolutely giant for flat stones.  They were about 5-6 inches thick, and the slabs are much more abundant in dimensions than other flat stones. I can’t imagine how they placed them here so many years ago without the aid of a JCV!


Much of the beauty and character of the Cathedral is due to several ‘Building Bishops,’ amongst whom was Bishop Kininmund, who built the fortified west towers and began the present nave.

Another Bishop (Lichtoun) completed the nave in the 1400s while a third Bishop, Elphinstone, completed the central tower and south transept.  They were busy, boys! Bishop Elphinstone also founded the University of Aberdeen and was for a time, Chancellor of Scotland!

Let’s head inside and check it out…


A fourth Bishop, Gavin Dunbar, in the 1500s raised the unique Renaissance heraldic ceiling, which depicts the notable sovereigns of Europe and the noble and ecclesiastical households of Scotland.  He also added the twin spires at the west front of the Cathedral (where the bride and groom were standing).

This first window is located on the west side of the church and is absolutely massive.  It was challenging to get a good picture of it.


After I took a picture of the whole window, I zoomed in on the center figures (shown below), so you could see better detail.  These are seven saints represented here.  (Somehow I managed to not get a close up of one of them)

Below are two bishops’ effigies that used to be outside in the original portion of the Cathedral.  They moved them indoors to help keep them protected and from further erosion from the environment.

An interesting tidbit of information here; after the execution of William Wallace in 1305, his body was cut up and sent to different corners of the country to warn other dissenters. His left quarter ended up in Aberdeen and is buried in the walls of this Cathedral. I wonder where his bones lay within these walls?

Also of interest:  John Barbour, Father of Scots Literature, d. 1395, is also buried in this place in the ‘Barbour Aisle.’ He is the author of an epic poem called ‘The Brus’ – a Chronicle of the Wars of Independence and the life of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.’ His works were among the first to be published in Scotland, hence the name “Father of Scots Literature.”










There were a lot of exciting things in this church to look at as we made our way around. This was a particularly delightful clock, and of course, the organs are always quite the sight to behold and hear (if you’re lucky!)

And then there were the many windows to behold…

Just outside the walls of the Cathedral, a beautiful city park surrounds and leads to the River Don.


I left the next morning (really early in the middle of the night) to catch the first of 3 legs of airline flights.  Although it was a very long day of traveling, it was (and always is) worth it.

I plan on returning once again next spring and continue the adventures.  In the meantime, however, I still plan on posting blog entries over the winter.  I have a lot of places to share, which I visited last year: a month in Scotland, a month in England and yep, a month in Ireland.  I also promised my many friends in the UK that I would start posting entries from places that are in my neck-of-the-woods so they can see what it is like where I live in the beautiful and scenic Pacific Northwest.

My long-time friend, Tracie, is coming to visit me in a few days, and I think I’ll start writing the blog posts about Oregon as our adventures together unfold. Hopefully, we’ll be visiting the giant Redwoods along the pristine Smith River as it winds its way to immense Pacific beyond. Then we will cruise up the Oregon Coast on Hwy 1 heading north and possibly even visit one of my all-time favorite gardens – Shore Acres near Charleston. So stay tuned if you would like to see what those places have to offer.

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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