Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway – St Michael

dsc03891On Wednesday 31 August I had a look at St Michael’s parish church in Dumfries – grid reference NX 975756. They have a website with this wonderful address – it is still advertising 2015 Christmas. The church was open and I got a good welcome – thanks for the guided tour, much appreciated. They have united three congregations in the one building – I wonder how that has worked. There is evidence suggesting that Ninian (circa 390 AD) stopped here en route to Whithorn – at least he didn’t have a wife who got no further than the Book Capital. There was a church around 700, and written records go back to 1190. The church is an A listed building, as is the cemetery – the trouble is that the church is built of local red sandstone, which is not a very durable material. A stunning steeple, but it only has one bell (having moved from Ponteland with its 6 bells to Allestree with 0, I am missing bells).

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A typical Scottish chapel, reminding me of the Non Conformist chapels of my youth, with some good glass. I started in the gallery, and like the clock (I want one). Apparently they were very popular as they were not subject to tax, whereas Grandfather clocks were. The church guide tells me it keeps good time.

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The stained glass in the gallery is lovely, but what is frustrating is that one of them has a shelf in front and a radiator underneath – I like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

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The Good Shepherd window (which I assume is by the same person as the one above) is the only one to have an attribution – William Wilson, 1958. He was born in 1905 and studied at both the Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. He founded his own studio in 1937, and he died in 1972. There is a book about his work as a print maker at this website, and some of his work is exhibited in that gallery. There is another of his windows in St Teresa’s church in Dumfries, and others in Canterbury Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral and St Andrew’s University. Not sure how realistic his donkey is.

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The Melchizedek Window is rather lovely, but quite difficult to photo, and I have no idea who made it.

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There is other glass – much of it Victorian – downstairs.

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The one of Jesus walking on the Water is dedicated to Margaret Milligan, Lady Anderson. Her husband, James Anderson, was the captain of the Great Eastern Steamship at the time that it successfully laid the first Atlantic Cable. My artist John Wilson Carmichael painted the ship as she was being built at Millwall. There is a website all about Atlantic submarine cables – here – and this picture is 1866.

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The pulpit and its sounding board are the original and was built of Scotch fir at a cost of £15/10 shillings in 1746. I wonder if they could get a slightly less visual microphone wire. The organ is a Willis organ dating to 1890 – you can imagine the controversy.

dsc03909dsc03935dsc03908There are memorials to those who died in WW1 (some from other churches as well), and a commemoration of the Norwegians who were stationed here in WW2.

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I liked the display of the old fashioned collection boxes, a display of Communion tokens, and the instruments used for making them.

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The poet Robbie Burns was a regular member of the congregation and there is a plaque where he always sat. I love it when people who always sit in the same pew get their own plaque. The white marble bust of the poet was installed in 2009, on the 250th anniversary of his birth.  There is quite a lot more I missed, but more to come in the churchyard.

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There are many wonderful memorials. They have done a trail of “Friends of Burns” and it would be fascinating to work round all of them.

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In the corner is the Burns’ Mausoleum, erected by public subscription 18 years after his death – they moved his remains from the original grave, which is apparently still marked in the NE corner of the cemetery. Robbie and his wife Jean are at rest, along with five of their nine children.

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My wife had been waiting for me for quite a while – I wonder if Jean had to wait while her husband wrote? He wrote a poem about her – this is the first verse

There was a lass, and she was fair,
At kirk or market to be seen;
When a’ our fairest maids were met,
The fairest maid was bonie Jean.

It’s a shame “bonie Julie” doesn’t quite scan – let’s make it English “fair Julie”. You can read the whole of Burns’ poem here. Thank you patient wife.

 

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