St Machar’s Cathedral was the seat of the bishop of Aberdeen. In about 1131, Bishop Nechtan moved his seat, or cathedra, from Mortlach (now Dufftown) to Aberdeen, though nothing we see today dates to before the late 1300s.
The only part now roofed is the eight-bay aisled nave, begun in the late 1300s and roofed in the mid-1400s. It remains in use as the parish church of Old Aberdeen.
A tower collapse in 1688 destroyed much of the medieval church, including the transepts, the choir, and the presbytery.
The wall tombs
The north and south transepts contain some fine wall tombs for the bishops of Aberdeen. The finest is that of Bishop Gavin Dunbar (1518-32), who had the south transept remodelled by James V’s master mason Thomas French.
His tomb chest is decorated with:
- blind arcading with trefoils
- a tomb arch with square flowers
- square buttresses on each side of the arch, topped by an ornate finial
- the arms of the bishop and his king
- the bishop’s effigy
Other wall tombs include an unidentified bishop adjacent to Bishop Dunbar, and the tomb chest of Bishop Henry Leighton in the north transept, also known as St John’s Aisle.