5. Dunkeld Cathedral in the Middle Ages


My name is Canon Symon and as you stand and look towards the beautiful stained-glass window on the East wall, I would like to take you back to my time, the fourteenth century, and help you to imagine what it would have looked like in medieval times.

The focus was on the high altar at the far end of the church. This was the most important part of the building, where the services took place. Flanking the high altar we had pillars capped by angels from which we could hang curtains. Rising behind it was an altarpiece showing twenty- four of the miracles of St Columba to whom the cathedral was dedicated. In front of the altar we had two great brass lecterns from which we read the epistles and gospels in our daily services. There were also many precious vessels for use at the high altar, as well as silver censers and a crucifix which we believed to contain a fragment of the true cross.

What we see on the east wall today is a stained glass window that was installed as part of the restoration of the Cathedral funded by Sir Donald Currie in 1908. The lowest part depicts St Columba (with the dove above his head in the central panel), preaching the Word of God to the people.

The panel on the right shows the arrival of St Columba from Ireland, landing on Iona. In the background is a sailing boat from which a monk in a black habit is carrying a small chest with Celtic motifs. Below the images are small panels with a quotation from St Matthew’s Gospel – ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost’.

The first four panels of the middle section depict the Nativity story with the Angel appearing to the shepherds. The fifth panel shows the message of Jesus’ birth coming to the Wise Men. The wording along the bottom of the panels is a quotation from St Luke’s gospel – ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men’.

The panels in the top section depict the Christian virtues – Fortitude, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Faith, Hope, Temperance and Patience.

The stained glass in the window was the work of Burliston and Grylls of London.

The 1908 restoration focussed on the communion table, which was placed a little to the west of where the high altar would originally have been and was set against a carved and panelled screen which linked the table with the pulpit. The stalls for the Minister and elders, the panelled screen behind and above them, the pulpit and the doors to either side were possibly designed by the famous Scottish architect Robert Lorimer.

I invite you to continue down the right-hand side of the building. We will eventually be going through the door on the right.

As you continue down the right-hand side of the building you will see three recessed and arched stone seats inserted in the south wall. This ‘sedilia’ was provided for priests like me and for my assistants who, in medieval times, when we celebrated mass at the high altar would take a seat at certain times in the service.

You may also notice a small stone piscina, or carved bowl, in one of the recesses. We used this for washing the communion vessels.

I invite you to continue walking through the righthand side door by the east window to see more.