University sheds fresh light on 700-year-old Bishop

Experts team up with heritage partners for Elgin exhibition

Date posted

21 March 2016


A 700-year-old carving of an important bishop is to appear awash with colour as part of a new exhibition at Elgin Cathedral, thanks to University experts.

The effigy of Bishop Archibald is one of over 100 medieval carved stones going on public display for the first time in 20 years on Friday 25 March.

Spread across eight rooms in the cathedral’s north and south towers, the exhibition features expressive carved faces, flora and fauna, animals including lions and lizards, and a section of a rose window dating to the 1200s.

Each stone is theatrically lit to reveal the detail of the carvings using LED lighting. Visitors will also be able to explore the collection through a touchscreen digital database.

More than £300,000 has been invested in conserving, interpreting and displaying the stones. The project has seen experts from Historic Environment Scotland work with Edinburgh Napier academics and local partners in Elgin to catalogue, conserve, and ultimately tell the story of the cathedral as never before.

The lighting design, projection system and content that delivers the innovative virtual restoration of the painted effigy was created by the University's Malcolm Innes. Malcolm worked with Richard Firth, his colleague from the Centre for Art & Design Research. Richard brought his extensive private practice experience of exhibition design to the project to create a beautifully elegant display system for this remarkable collection of carved stones. Malcolm’s two decades of experience of conservation lighting in museums, galleries and visitor centres fed into the lighting design for the exhibition rooms.

Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism for Historic Environment Scotland, said: "It’s great to see these stones coming home just in time for the start of the new visitor season in Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

“A great amount of effort has gone into the realisation of this exciting exhibition - from our conservation specialists who analysed tiny traces of paint from a 13th-century sculpture of Bishop Archibald to our partners at Edinburgh Napier University who used these findings to develop a lighting display, showing what it once might have looked like when freshly painted.

“This exhibition provides visitors with a fantastic opportunity to discover more about the cathedral, its architecture and history. As well as the chance to view the stones and their carvings up close, it also offers a rare glimpse into what Elgin Cathedral could have looked like some 700 years ago.”

Elgin Cathedral was commissioned by the bishops of Moray – some of the most powerful people in medieval Scotland.

After a disastrous fire tore through the cathedral precinct in 1270, Bishop Archibald of Moray set about rebuilding. He took the opportunity to enlarge and enhance his church, building his tomb into the wall of the choir, close to the high altar. He was laid to rest there in 1298, with his brightly painted effigy set on top of his tomb.