Pillar Base Reveals Cathedral Building
6 April 2009
PILLAR BASE REVEALS CATHEDRAL BUILDING PLANS OF MEDIEVAL STONEMASON
Experts believe they may have discovered a 13th-century stonemason’s sketch for
the building of a section of St Andrews’s Cathedral.
A series of markings on the underside of a pillar fragment appear to show carefully
drawn and scribed lines showing the plan of a wall with a three-lobed attached column.
There is also a set of four circles, neatly created using a compass, which could
be the plans for the bases of small columns which still exist on the upper surface of the base.
The rare find was made by Dr Mary Markus, a specialist in Medieval architectural
stone, who is employed by Historic Scotland to catalogue and record the carved stone collection at the
She said: “What is so thrilling about this is that it gives us a direct insight
into the mind of an early 13th-century stonemason.
“It is possible to see the working out and the thinking as the mason effectively
made notes on what he intended to do, checking that it would work.”
Dr Markus compared the measurements of the four-lobed markings with the small column
bases on the upper surface of the stone, and found they were a close match.
“It looks as if the mason was making a working drawing for another mason, to show
exactly what was to be carved on the upper surface.
“So we have a surviving example of both the plans and the end result,” she said.
Only two other examples of mason’s plans are known in Scotland, one at Dunfermline
Abbey and some later, 15th-century, markings in Rosslyn Chapel.
Hugh Morrison, Historic Scotland collections registrar, said: “It is quite remarkable
to have found what appear to be mason’s plans for part of one of Scotland’s great historic buildings.
“They come from an era before professional architects when masons were largely responsible
for design and building.
“They were people of remarkable skill and ability, but there are few surviving written
records to tell us about who they were and how they went about their work.
“So to have this direct view into the life and work of one of these men, from so
many centuries ago, is quite wonderful.”
The cataloguing and recording of the stones is part of an ongoing project by the
Historic Scotland collections unit.
Notes for Editors
- Historic Scotland’s collections unit would be pleased to hear from you if
you have any enquiries about this or other collections in our care. The Historic Scotland collections
unit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Entry to St Andrews Cathedral, which is in the town of St Andrews, is
£4.20 for adults, £3.20 for concessions and £2.10 for children. Joint tickets with St Andrews Castle
are £7.20 for adults, £5.20 concessions and £3.60 for children.
Highlights of the cathedral
- The pillar with the mason’s plans is on show at the cathedral.
- St Rules Tower – an early 12th century predecessor to St. Andrews Cathedral.
- The Cathedral Museum – an outstanding collection of early-Christian and
medieval carved stones as well as a fine collection of post-Reformation memorials. Pride of place is
the St Andrews sarcophagus, a masterpiece of 8th-century Pictish sculpture.
- Precinct Walls – the most complete in Scotland.
- Cathedral burial ground records are available to search in the visitor centre.
Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with
a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming
Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.