Christie buffs solve mystery of St Cuthbert's

THE mystery is worthy of an Agatha Christie novel. Why are so many people dressed as her fictional heroes Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple turning up outside an Edinburgh church?

Putting the "little grey cells" to work - as the famous Belgian fictional detective often did - the answer is obvious. St Cuthbert's on Lothian Road is the chapel where the famous author married her second husband and it has now become part of a nationwide Christie trail.

Increasing numbers of Christie fans, many dressed in 1930s-style ball gowns, Poirot outfits or Art Deco era-inspired clothes have begun visiting the chapel where Christie, a divorcee, married her second husband Max Mallowan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A leading expert on the life of the writer, who became the bestselling author of all time and the "queen of crime", said it should be ranked among the top three Christie attractions in the UK.

Mathew Pritchard, the author's grandson and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd, said the marriage at St Cuthbert's was one of the lesser-known details of her colourful life. "I am interested to hear that some enterprising Agatha Christie fans have discovered that she got married to Max at St Cuthbert's in Edinburgh," he said.

St Cuthbert's minister, the Reverend David Denniston, who admits to being a Poirot fan but is also slightly bemused by the Christie fans' devotions, said: "I find it interesting that people are visiting in costume too, though I wouldn't do it myself. The awareness that this is an important part of Christie's life has only grown over recent years.

"It's amazing how few people know Christie was married here in comparison with all the people who know her work. When we tell them, they express great surprise and are very taken with the fact. There has also been confusion because a couple of publications said she had been married in St Columba's by the Castle in Edinburgh. That's why we've put a copy of the marriage certificate on display to the public, to show that it took place here.

"Almost certainly the only people who knew about it at the time were the people who opened the place up and the minister."

The chapel played a major role in her life, with Christie going to great lengths to keep the wedding on 11 September, 1930, to Mallowan, an Oxford graduate she met on an archaeological dig in Iraq, a secret.She wanted to avoid a repeat of the sensational front-page publicity she attracted after disappearing for a few weeks in December 1926 while on the brink of a nervous breakdown when her first marriage was collapsing and which led to national appeals for information.

Their engagement was kept secret and banns read out on the Isle of Skye, where Christie went into seclusion in Broadford with her only child Rosalind, 11, and trusted female friends for nearly a month before the ceremony.

There were other reasons the author wanted to keep the occasion secret. Christie was 40 and a divorcee and a member of the Church of England. Mallowan was Roman Catholic and 14 years her junior. She blatantly attempted to disguise the age difference by giving her age on the marriage certificate as 37, while Mallowan's was given as a mature 31 rather than 26.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The marriage ceremony was conducted by the Rev George Macleod - known as "the Rudolph Valentino of the Edinburgh pulpit" for his dark good looks - who later became the Moderator of the General Assembly and who founded of the Iona Community.

Tamsen Harward, literary estates business manager of Agatha Christie Ltd, which manages the literary and media rights to Christie's works worldwide, said: "The passion with which Agatha Christie's numerous fans express their love of her, and her works, never fails to delight or surprise me. There's a reason why she's the bestselling novelist of all time. We have members all over the world and I know there are people who love to dress up to reflect the books."

Christie has had an estimated two billion copies of her books printed. She wrote 80 novels and short story collections, 19 plays, two books of poetry, a children's book, and two autobiographical works.

The "Christie trail" is a worldwide phenomenon with a week-long festival held every September in her birthplace of Torquay encompassing lectures, tours and special events, which have included an open-air screening of Murder On The Orient Express and a special murder mystery dinner on the Riviera Belle dining car on the Paignton to Dartmouth Steam Railway.

John Curran, Christie aficionado and author of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, said: "I've taken Christie fans to visit various sites of interest in her life and St Cuthbert's could certainly be added to the main ones, which include her home in Torquay where she was born."

Related topics: