Case Study: The Development of religious buildings

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral viewed from St Rule’s Tower, © RCAHMS

Religious buildings stand as important confessional statements within both the rural and urban environment. Monumental cathedrals such as Glasgow or the ruins of St Andrews are evocative reminders of the complex liturgies and ceremonies that were associated with the medieval mystery of the mass. At the Reformation, some cathedrals, like St Andrews and Elgin, were abandoned for local parish churches which were more suitable for the more intimate arrangements required for preaching in the Reformed Kirk. The cathedral at Glasgow was abandoned before being divided into several separate churches. At a parochial level the buildings were reconfigured and where there was a chancel it was frequently abandoned, often becoming a burial aisle. These were structural alterations that were not always successful in their attempts to reorganise the ritual space that had been constructed for different confessional practices. As Burns noted: 'What a poor pimping business is a Presbyterian place of worship! Dirty, narrow, squalid: stuck in a corner of old popish grandeur such as Linlithgow'.

The restoration of churches, such as Haddington and Stirling in the twentieth century, has recreated to some extent the medieval appearance of these buildings, and something of their Catholic grandeur. This has, however, been at the expense of the more recent Reformed church interior which has been regarded as an intrusion. The 17th-century sectarianism which divided the parish church of Holy Rood in Stirling is now only a matter of historical and photograph record, rather than an archaeological and architectural statement. Here, then, a heritage concern for the original and most ancient form of the building has resulted in the erasure of direct and tangible reminders of the Reformation history of these buildings and the communities to which they relate.

Churches have, of course, been transformed in more recent times as well: Al-Furqan Mosque in Glasgow and Dundee Central Mosque were established in former churches while, in Edinburgh, the United Free Church of Scotland building in Queensferry Road, Blackhall, became a mosque in 2009. Some structural elements commonly found in churches, such as galleries, translate well across faiths, but other features need to be altered, adapted, removed or added to meet new religious purposes.

The evolution and adaptation of such buildings to meet the demands of different denominations and faiths speaks to Scotland's complex religious history and these buildings have a place in the histories and ongoing stories of many groups within Scottish society. These buildings have played a prominent role in key social, religious and political changes in the modern Scottish past and they have much to tell about still-resonant historical conflicts and differences between groups. But they also speak of shared spaces, beliefs, traditions and practices and of commonality, co-existence and creative adaptation.

Return to Section 9.5 A Political Past


9.7 Research Recommendations

Future research should:

  1. Link past, present and future in an explicit and critical manner. Recognising that the modern past has a particular resonance in the present - as the exploration of the direct origins of that present, research should go beyond the search for knowledge and understanding of the past to investigate relationships between that past, the present and the future.
  2. Develop a sound understanding of modern-period archaeology as a scholarly pursuit and as a social and political practice. Archaeology itself, as a modern way of knowing the past, is an important topic for research. In the present context, particular emphasis can be placed on the need for further creative and critical research revealing and understanding the character and history of archaeological engagements with the modern past and present. This research will be crucial for the development of a sounder understanding of the developing role of archaeology in the modern world.
  3. Provide insights into the ways in which the modern past is presented and represented in the present. Understandings of the modern past are communicated in numerous ways and, through research, it is possible to understand how particular versions of this past are created, disseminated and promoted, how interpretation of the modern past changes from context to context and how the present and future are contested through different representations of the past.
  4. Evidence and interpret popular understandings of and engagements with the modern past, particularly its material aspect. Research in this field should consider the character and meaning of the recent past from the point of view of different constituencies, complementing research into national narratives concerning the recent past with understanding of the significance and meaning of the recent past for different communities within and beyond Scotland.
  5. Critically review public engagement practices in modern-world archaeology and develop new modes of public-professional collaboration. Community and public engagement have emerged and continue to develop as important aspects of modern archaeological practice. Professional-public relationships have firmly moved beyond the one-way dissemination of information to more active forms of engagement and collaboration. Yet, this development in practice has not been accompanied by sufficient research and debate surrounding the philosophies, politics and practices of public and community engagement, at least not in the particular contexts of Scotland and the archaeology of its modern past. Research is needed to develop fuller and deeper understandings of the character, consequences, possibilities and problems of public--professional relationships in relation to the recent past. Research is needed to generate practices through which archaeology can make positive interventions in the world.
  6. Evidence and understand the politics of the recent past, particularly as related to the material aspects of that past. Investigations of the origins of the present and of those other modern ways of life which came to an end on the way to the present are inevitably bound up with questions about the nature, legitimacy and direction of social, environmental and political matters. More research is needed to evidence and understand the politics of the recent past, the ways in which particular historical narratives are created, maintained and transformed and the ways in which reflection on the past, engendered by archaeology and other material historical disciplines, can contribute new perspectives on the present as a means of envisioning the future.
  7. Advance knowledge and understanding of the moral and ethical views held by professionals and members of the public in relation to the archaeology of the recent past. Given that the archaeology of the modern past informs understandings of the present and feeds debate about the future; given that archaeologists work with the material remains (and human remains) of recently-living communities; and given that archaeologists interact with others in conducting their work, ethics must be a central issue for future research. Research is needed which reveals and investigates the moral or ethical attitudes of different constituencies towards the telling of recent history and towards the material and human remains which have come down to the present from the recent past. This research should provide evidenced, considered and critical understandings of professional and public attitudes on moral or ethical matters in this area.
  8. Embed processes of ethical reflection and beneficial action into archaeological practice. Ethics is not just a subject for researchers to study but something which should be built into the very doing of archaeology. Researchers and practitioners should be encouraged and supported to engage in an ongoing process of critical ethical reflection and action in relation to their practice. Research is needed which provides a sound and deep foundation for ethical reflection and action, by revealing and promoting understanding of the interests which are potentially relevant in particular circumstances and by indicating and actively developing approaches to the application of ethical principles, including new participatory and collaborative modes of working in archaeology. Research practice should connect the creation of knowledge about the past with the pursuit and realisation of social, environmental and other benefits in the present and for the future.

In all of the above, the over-arching aim should be to further understanding of our relationships with the modern past and to link past, present and future in an explicit, ethical and active manner.