The Cathedral Church of St Machar in Old Aberdeen is one of three cathedrals in Aberdeen - which is a rather rare occurrence in the whole of the UK. Some of the locals say that this significantly increases the odds of staying on the right side of the Almighty.
On our visit to St Machar’s, we definitely felt closer to heaven for so many reasons - especially since we got the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the ongoing refurbishment of the 1520 heraldic ceiling up close - from a provisional scaffolding floor just underneath the ceiling. Some of us suffer from acrophobia, so climbing up the stairs towards the ceiling was not necessarily easy, but totally worth it. And, it can easily be said that the provisional structure in what is also known as the only medieval granite cathedral in the world is actually a piece of art in itself.
What is currently happening just underneath the ceiling, is a soft refurbishment which is pretty much the opposite of what the Victorians did when they “refurbished” the ceiling by adapting it to the current fashion. Today’s historical conservationists have a more gentle approach, mainly making sure that all of the 48 heraldic shields that are arranged in three rows of sixteen are staying where they are supposed to be. The heraldic ceiling is an impressive and somehow surprising feature of the otherwise quite unpretentiously decorated church. The three rows of potentates, representing the kings of Europe, the Pope and clerics of Scotland, and the King of Scots with his nobles, are shown in procession to the King of Kings.
St Machar’s has been a place of worship since 580 AD, after St Machar, a contemporary of St Columba, was told in a dream to go east and found a church by a river shaped like the handle of a Bishop’s crook - which is exactly how the bend of the River Don looks like. Others say that St Columba was jealous of St Machar’s healing powers and gave him an impossible mission to have him as far away as possible.
Whatever the truth, St Machar’s is definitely worth a visit and while you are there, look out for a star-shaped stone in the surrounding wall. According to the legend, this may be the burial place of William Wallace’s left arm, but let’s keep this story for another day.