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Elgin Cathedral, Elgin

#1 of 16 in Historic Sites in Moray
Must see · Church · Tourist Spot
Elgin Cathedral is a historic ruin in Elgin, Moray, north-east Scotland. The cathedral—dedicated to the Holy Trinity—was established in 1224 on land granted by King Alexander II outside the burgh of Elgin and close to the River Lossie. It replaced the cathedral at Spynie, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) to the north, that was served by a small chapter of eight clerics. The new and bigger cathedral was staffed with 18 canons in 1226 and then increased to 23 by 1242. After a damaging fire in 1270, a rebuilding programme greatly enlarged the building. It was unaffected by the Wars of Scottish Independence but again suffered extensive fire damage in 1390 following an attack by Robert III's brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, also known as the Wolf of Badenoch. In 1402 the cathedral precinct again suffered an incendiary attack by the followers of the Lord of the Isles. The number of clerics required to staff the cathedral continued to grow, as did the number of craftsmen needed to maintain the buildings and surrounds.

The cathedral went through periods of enlargement and renovation following the fires of 1270 and 1390 that included the doubling in length of the choir, the provision of outer aisles to the northern and southern walls of both the nave and choir. Today, these walls are at full height in places and at foundation level in others yet the overall cruciform shape is still discernible. A mostly intact octagonal chapter house dates from the major enlargement after the fire of 1270. The gable wall above the double door entrance that links the west towers is nearly complete and was rebuilt following the fire of 1390. It accommodates a large window opening that now only contains stub tracery work and fragments of a large rose window. Recessed and chest tombs in both transepts and in the south aisle of the choir contain effigies of bishops and knights, and large flat slabs in the now grass-covered floor of the cathedral mark the positions of early graves. The homes of the dignitaries and canons, or manses, stood in the chanonry and were destroyed by fire on three occasions: in 1270, 1390 and 1402. The two towers of the west front are mostly complete and were part of the first phase of construction. Only the precentor's manse is substantially intact; two others have been incorporated into private buildings. A protective wall of massive proportions surrounded the cathedral precinct, but only a small section has survived. The wall had four access gates, one of which—the Pans Port—still exists.

The number of canons had increased to 25 by the time of the Scottish Reformation in 1560 when the cathedral was abandoned and its services transferred to Elgin's parish church of St Giles. After the removal of the lead waterproofing of the roof in 1567, the cathedral fell steadily into decay. The building was still largely intact in 1615 but in the winter of 1637, a storm brought down the roof covering the eastern limb. In the spring of 1711, the central steeple above the crossing collapsed taking the walls of the nave with it. Ownership was transferred from the Church to the Crown in 1689 but that made no difference to the building's continuing deterioration. Only in the early years of the 19th Century did the Crown begin the conservation process—the stabilisation of the structure proceeded through until the end of the 20th Century with the large scale improvements to the two western towers.

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
803 reviews
  • After your visit walk along the river and you might see an otter. The flood prevention scheme has provided a pathway either east or west beside the River Lossie. A number of otters inhabit the river.....  more »
  • Only reason this is 4 star instead of 5 is that the upper parts of the towers were closed when we visited. It’s a great, interesting and immaculately looked after place with friendly and informative.....  more »
  • Staff are very helpful and friendly. We seen the tempest here and it was the perfect setting. Loved every minute. Are historic Scotland members too climbed to the top and picked out local landmarks. Children enjoyed this.
  • Great B&B. They serve up an excellent full Scottish breakfast or continental breakfast. Rooms are lovely and in a grand old Victorian home. Wifi excellent. Very convenient to the town and right near a pub and restaurant.

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