St Cuthbert's Church, Lothian Road, Edinburgh

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Notes in italics from Pevsner Architectural Guides, Edinburgh by John Gifford, Colin McWilliam and David Walker (1991), Yale University Press.

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  St Cuthbert's was once the parish church for the whole area now covered by the New Town.
A large mixed Renaissance church by Hippolyte J. Blanc, 1892-5, keeping the late-C18 steeple of its predecessor. The site, well below the level of Princess Street and picturesquely unrelated to any of the Georgian formalities to the N, is that of a still earlier building. The medieval St Cuthbert, first mentioned in 1127 (possibly a foundation of St Margaret), was the church  of a large parish surrounding the old city. ...
By 1772 the kirk was dangerous, and in 1773-5 (following a competition) the architect-builder James Weir of Tollcros built a preaching box with two tiers of galleries reached by a stairs in the pedimented W projection. ... In 1789-90 Alexander Stevens built the spire which he probably designed himself, Gibbsian with Adamish detail.
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By 1888 the church had become unsafe, and Blanc was appointed; he first proposed to recase it, but  eventually a rebuild was decided upon, maintaining the general proportions but greatly increasing the size. The result, with a pair of Baroque E towers flanking the domed apse, is best seen from the lower level of Princes Street Gardens (last picture). This view succeeds by sheer swank; all the others show an uneasy compromise, for snecked stonework and C15-16 Renaissance detail do not suit the austere kirk style, and the great bulk and divergent roof pitch are at odds with the Georgian steeple. ... Maybe, from a purist point of view, but the building is impressive nevertheless. Medieval churches and cathedrals usually have styles of different periods but are still admired.

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The body of the church is vast but plain, with a U-plan gallery, very deep at the W end, supported by Corinthianesque columns. Compartmented ceiling. Two wide arches open into transepts, wider indeed than the apsed chancel in which most of the splendour is concentrated.
In the transept arch on the north side the organ, and on the south side a wooden screen by Edinburgh Art College.

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In 1906-8 Blanc installed the alabaster wall frieze in the apse, a modified version of Leonardo's Last Supper in high relief by Bridgeman of Lichfield, curiously divided in three by the pilasters which were retained and clad in orangey-red Verona marble.

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White marble communion table divided by Corinthian pilasters, in its three compartments a cross (the cross of St Cuthbert) of green Aventurine marble with a golden crocodolyte centre and porphyry infill, flanked by panels of lapiz lazuli and mother-of pearl.
On the apse vault Christ in Glory by Robert Hope. - On the chancel vault the four evangelists by Gerald E. Moira
(1928). - On the spandrels of the chancel arch two angels with a Sanctus inscription by John Duncan (1933).
Pulpit. 1897-8 by Blanc again, on four red marble columns from S. Ambrogio quarries near Verona, with verde antico panels ...
Font devised by Thomas Armstrong (Keeper of Fine Art in the South Kensington Museum), 1907-8, a hexagonal bowl of one piece of polished white marble based on della Quercia's in Siena Cathedral, with a gilded bronze profile portrait by McGill. Upon it ... a copy of Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna. 

    Grave of Thomas de Quincey    
  The large churchyard includes the graves of:  

Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859). A prolific writer he is best known "The Confessions of an English Opium Eater" (1822). He moved from England to Edinburgh in 1826.  Susan Ferrier (1782-1854), 'Scotland's Jane Austen'.  George Meikle Kemp (1795-1844) who won the competition for the design of the Scott Monument but died in 1844, shortly before its completion.

Church website


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