The bottom of this column base from St Andrews Cathedral shows us how a stonemason would set out designs in the early 1200s. Drawn and scribed lines on the stone mark out the design of quatrefoil (four-leafed) column bases. There is also a plan of walls with attached columns. Compasses were used to work out the column design, which was drawn and then scribed. This let the medieval mason cut an accurate template.

Some of the lines are cut short by the trefoiled (three-leafed) shape of the base. The original drawing area must have been much larger than what is seen here. Using a flat surface as a sketchbook was common practice in medieval times – though little evidence of this has been found in Scotland. Only Roslin Chapel and Dunfermline Abbey are known to have masons’ drawings. It’s likely the stone surface was rubbed down to provide a fresh start.

The dimensions of the template drawings and the column bases on the upper surface match in size almost exactly. It is very unusual to find such an example that shows a design both planned and executed. Small in scale, the stone was likely meant for an arcade or screen. But it may never have actually been used, since its moulded edge and some surfaces are roughly finished at best.

St Andrews Cathedral

St Rule’s Church was likely built around 1130, as the first place of worship in Scotland for the newly arrived Augustinian canons. This Continental reformed order supplanted the existing clergy.

The 33m tall St Rule’s Tower may have been a beacon for pilgrims heading for the shrine of St Andrew.

Scotland’s greatest cathedral

The cathedral was begun in 1160–2 by Bishop Arnold. Work continued over the next 150 years, but was stalled by a storm in 1272, which blew down the west front, and by the first War of Independence against England.

When the cathedral was finally dedicated in 1318 – in the presence of Robert the Bruce, by then king – it was by far the largest church in Scotland. So it was fitting that St Rule’s became the headquarters of the Scottish Church.

The cathedral church is now ruined, but large areas survive.

Its superb remains include the:

  • east gable of the presbytery, which housed the relics of St Andrew
  • south wall of the nave
  • majestic west front

The cloister retains its ruined chapter house and the restored stone-vaulted undercrofts that now house the cathedral museum. On display are fascinating artefacts from the early medieval era to post-Reformation times.

The Pends Gate (the main entrance into the cathedral precinct) and much of the precinct wall survive. Beyond the wall, on a ledge above the sea, are the foundations of the church of St Mary on the Rock (St Mary Kirkheugh). This was probably built to house the successors of the Culdee foundation, displaced from the cathedral site by the Augustinians.

The cathedral and the Protestant Reformation

In 1559, John Knox preached a fiery sermon in St Andrews parish church, and the cathedral was ‘cleansed’ as a result. In 1561, it was abandoned and replaced by the parish church as the chief place of worship. St Rule’s was then left to fall into ruins.

Find out more about St Andrews Cathedral


Date Made
Early 13th century
145 x 455 x 428mm
Time Period
Property Information
St Andrews Cathedral
Object Number
Access Status