Elgin Stones to be brought home for exhibition

Historic Environment Scotland stonemasons Scott Stewart and Graeme Horne and apprentice Jonathan Moir have begun the process of hoisting carved faces, plants and animals into the towers at Elgin Cathedral for a new exhibition opening on Easter weekend. Image: John Paul Photography/Historic Environment Scotland
Historic Environment Scotland stonemasons Scott Stewart and Graeme Horne and apprentice Jonathan Moir have begun the process of hoisting carved faces, plants and animals into the towers at Elgin Cathedral for a new exhibition opening on Easter weekend. Image: John Paul Photography/Historic Environment Scotland
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Work has begun to return 125 medieval carved stones home to Elgin Cathedral following their restoration at Historic Environment Scotland’s conservation centre in Edinburgh.

Carved faces, plants and animals are being displayed at an exhibition due to open on Easter weekend which will tell the story of the cathedral, the people who built it and its congregation.

The Elgin stones have been cleaned by expert conservators and studied by researchers Edinburgh.

Elgin Cathedral survived both a devastating fire in 1270 and attacks by the Earl of Buchan in 1390 and Alexander, Lord of the Isles in 1402. After the Reformation the cathedral, sometimes known as ‘The Lantern of the North,’ lost its roof and fell into disrepair.

Fiona Fleming, interpretation manager at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “For many years, the carved stones lay buried amidst the ruins, until the 1800s, when Elgin shoemaker John Shanks became the first keeper and watchman of the cathedral. He began to clear away some of the rubble uncovering wonderful, crisp carvings that had been buried for centuries.

“By studying the stones we have been able to understand more about the cathedral’s construction and development, its builders and benefactors, and what it might have meant to those who walked through its doors.”

For the first time in 20 years, visitors will be able to get up close to the stones, including Bishops’ memorials and fragments of a 13th century rose window discovered during repair works in 1936.

Whilst the stones were in Edinburgh for cleaning, conservators were able to piece together a segment of this window to see how it might have looked originally. At more than 3 metres across the assembled section does not fit into the exhibition space in the cathedral towers.

The displays will also explore the messages contained in the many carvings that embellished the medieval cathedral, from flora, fauna and funny faces to mystical beasts and heraldic motifs.

Lorna Ewan, Head of Visitor Experience, Content and Learning at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “This is shaping up to be a fascinating exhibition, one which will bring the story of Elgin Cathedral to life for visitors.

“We’ve worked with academic experts to decode the messages within the carvings, and in partnership with Napier University on a wonderful lighting display to create a truly innovative exhibition for Scotland’s year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.”

The exhibition is set to open to the public on Easter weekend and is part of the 2016 Year of Innovation Architecture and Design for Scotland.