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20 January 2016

Elgin stones return home

Carved faces, plants and animals are being hoisted up to the towers of Elgin Cathedral for an exciting exhibition to open this Easter.

A staff member holding a carved head at Elgin Cathedral, one of many pieces of stonework on display in a new exhibition.

Work has begun to return 126 medieval carved stones home to Elgin Cathedral. Carved faces, plants and animals are being hoisted up into the cathedral towers to form part of an exciting exhibition due to open on Easter weekend.

The Elgin stones spent much of 2015 at Historic Environment Scotland’s conservation centre in Edinburgh, being cleaned by expert conservators and studied by researchers. Now an immersive exhibition has been developed, telling the story of the cathedral and the people who built and used it.

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

Fiona Fleming, Interpretation Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, explained: “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 these remarkable stones, including Bishops’ memorials and fragments of a 13th century rose window discovered during repair works in 1936.* 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. If you’re planning your family outings for 2016, I’d highly recommend that a visit to Elgin Cathedral goes on the list.”

The exhibition will open on Easter weekend.

* While 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, but you can see a video of how it fits together

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES)

  • As of the 1st October 2015, Historic Scotland and RCAHMS came together to form a new lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. The new body Historic Environment Scotland (HES) will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland is a sub brand of HES.
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Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016

2016 is the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design (IAD). Through a series of exciting events and activity, the year will showcase Scotland's position as an "innovation nation", its outstanding built heritage, and its thriving, internationally acclaimed creative industries sector. This is a Scottish Government initiative being led by VisitScotland and supported by a variety of partners.

Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016

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Twitter: @HistEnvScot | @welovehistory 

Facebook: @HistoricEnvScotland @VisitHistoricScotland


For further information

Ali George 
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office
Direct Line: 0131 668 8714
Mobile: 07853 018 790