Friday 6th July 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. On that fateful night the Piper Alpha rig exploded and caught fire killing a total of 167 men. No-one who was in Aberdeen at the time will forget that day nor the subsequent days. It is fitting that various memorials have been created for those who lost their lives. The Piper Alpha Memorial Garden is in Hazlehead Park where an Act of Remembrance will take place at 7 pm on 6th July. There is also a beautiful Piper Alpha memorial window in Ferryhill Parish Church.
At the time of the disaster the ‘Oil Chapel’ was being planned by the oil industry to mark the first 25 years of North Sea oil. This is in the Kirk of St Nicholas and naturally its design was influenced by these events. In particular the furniture, designed and built by Borders craftsman Tim Stead, features strips of native Scottish trees, the initials of which spell out ‘We Remember Yew’. This can be seen, for example, in the backs of the chairs (first photograph). Also in the Oil Chapel is a desk housing a book with the names of all those who lost their life. This is shown in the second photograph. The Chapel can be visited any weekday afternoon (between 12 noon and 4 pm) until the end of September in the Kirk of St Nicholas – entry by the main door facing Union Street.
Also available is a notelet showing a chair, as shown in the third photograph. In the chapel’s stained glass window there are red (oil) and green (gas) ‘lenses’ representing various fields in the North Sea. There is also one clear glass lens commemorating the Piper Alpha field.
St Mary’s Chapel will be open to the public as indicated above.
Many of the features in the chapel have appeared in this blog over the years, including the carved wood, stained glass, grave slabs, vaulted ceiling, witches ring, enamel work font etc. It is truly one of the hidden gems of Aberdeen.
Entrance if free, although we always welcome donations. Access is awkward if you have mobility problems and involves steps both up and down. The entry door is at the top of Correction Wynd across from the side of the new TSB bank. It will be signposted.
The chapel will be open again on 11th August and on Doors Open Day (8th September). For Doors Open Day there will also be tours of the archaeological dig site at 11, 12, 2 and 3, conducted by Alison Cameron who led the dig.
The picture is part of a window in the former East Kirk and shows the Angel Gabriel. By tradition, depictions of the angel feature him holding something – a trumpet, a lily, a shining lantern, a scroll, a branch from paradise or a sceptre. Also traditionally, Gabriel wears white or blue clothing. In this window he is shown with mainly white clothing and holding a lily in his left hand.
Gabriel features widely in the Bible, but is also recognised in other major religions, including Judaism and Islam.
St Mary’s Chapel was built around 1450 before the Kirk of St Nicholas was expanded to its present size towards the end of that century. It is a special place, often described as ‘one of the hidden gems of Aberdeen’. It has a stone-vaulted ceiling, beautiful stained glass, the walls have mostly 17th century carved wood panels, and there is some dating from 1508. Set in the floor are grave stones some of which show the links between the building in the castles of Drum and Crathes.
The Chapel will be open to the public on four Saturdays over the summer between 10 am and 12.30 pm on 14th May, 11th June, 9th July and 13th August. Entry is free, there will be people there to explain and answer questions, but please note that access involves difficult steps and the floors inside are uneven. Entry is by the door at the top of Correction Wynd.
The Chapel will also be open on Doors Open Day on 10th September between 10 am and 4 pm.
Easter Day is when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. They often greet each other that day with ‘Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed’. The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith, showing as it does the divine in Jesus, that he is the Son of God. Christians believe that through his death and resurrection, despite all that we do wrong, we can be reconciled with God.
Depiction of the resurrection is not as easy as for the crucifixion. Symbolically Jesus is often depicted as the Paschal Lamb, from the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice as atonement for sin. In the non-conformist churches an empty cross is often used, as in this photograph taken in St John’s Chapel (the ‘Oil Chapel’) in the Kirk of St Nicholas.
Good Friday is one of the most sacred days of the year for Christians, when the death of Jesus by crucifixion is remembered. The exact date when this happened is not known. However, the Gospel accounts make it clear that it was on a Friday and scholars, whilst disagreeing over detail, seem to point towards the year AD33 or 34.
There are representations of the crucifixion in many churches – as paintings, sculptures or in stained glass. The photograph with this post is of the stylised representation of the crucifixion in the apse window of the former East Kirk of St Nicholas.
The pelican is an ancient symbol in Christianity. It was first recorded in a book, Physiologus, in Alexandria in the 2nd century. The mother pelican is purported to pierce its own breast to feed its chicks if other food is scarce. Over the centuries this sacrificial giving has been used in the Church to symbolise the sacrificial giving of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross. In some churches it is also used to signify the act of Holy Communion. This meaning appears in a number of works of literature: for example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
When the Mither Kirk Project was starting, we were anxious to adopt a symbol which would convey something of our objective: the giving of the building to create a space for everyone to use in the heart of Aberdeen. The ‘Mither Kirk’ of St Nicholas has been at the centre of life in Aberdeen for at least 900 years – mothering and protecting. Within the Kirk building there are many examples of the use of the pelican symbol in stone, metal and on wood. Thus the use of the pelican as an appropriate symbol for the project developed.As depicted in our logo, it incorporates the idea of the sacrificial giving of the mother pelican, with the wings acting as a protection for the chicks, whilst also making a heart shape, indicating an ongoing care for the people of this city.
The 6th December is celebrated as St Nicholas Day. He provides the theme of this post.
Who was St Nicholas? He was a real person but, as often happened with notable people in the past, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Virtually the only thing that is certain about him is that he was Bishop of Myra (which is modern day Demre in SW Turkey) in the fourth century; but he became one of the most popular saints in both the Eastern and Western Churches. Tradition asserts that he was born, around 270, in Patara, another port not far distant from Myra. He probably died on 6th December 343 (or 352). The claim that his parents were wealthy but had died young and that an uncle, who brought him up and was Bishop of Patara is unlikely. Although it has been asserted that he was present as a champion of orthodoxy at the first Council of Nicea, called by the Roman Emperor, Constantine in 325, his name does not appear on any of the early lists of participants, making it very unlikely that he was one of the signatories of the Nicene Creed – still used in churches today.
Many other stories told of Nicholas are clearly legendary. However, it may be worth mentioning a few of them as together they may well give a true pointer to a man strongly committed to good and helpful actions. One story tells that Nicholas heard of a poor man who could not afford a dowry to allow his three daughters to marry. Secretly, at night, Nicholas delivered three purses of gold coins to them through the window. This story is depicted in one of the roundels in the window and lies behind the three gold disks to be found on the coat of arms of the Kirk – and the three ‘gold’ balls once commonly hanging outside pawnshops. He was also reputed to have performed a number of miracles including the raising to life three children who had been dismembered and pickled by a innkeeper. This is depicted on the reverse side of a 15th century .Burgh seal and also on roof boss above the desk in St Mary’s Chapel. The various stories lie behind the adoption of Nicholas as patron saint by varied groups of people – sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, pawnbrokers and students, and, particularly, children. How this developed into the idea of Santa Claus is fairly obvious, the name coming via New Amsterdam (New York), from a Dutch version of his name.
After the removal in 1080 of his supposed relics from Myra to Bari in Italy the cult of Nicholas spread rapidly to many places, especially seaports. Accordingly, it is reasonable that the first church in Aberdeen, probably built soon after that date, should bear his name, but the first written record is dated 1157. He was regarded as patron not only of the Kirk but of the Burgh, and the records show that in the later middle ages the Rector of the Grammar School accompanied by one of his scholars dressed as bishop, visited the parents of pupils on St Nicholas’ Day to claim a contribution of four shillings Scots.
The photograph is of the central part of a window in the west wall of the West Kirk and features St Nicholas seen holding three money bags. The present building dates from 1755 but the window is the most recent there and was only installed, in 1927. The rest of the window, not shown, depicts other scenes from the life of St Nicholas and, in a corner, the sign of the artist, Geoffrey Webb – a spider’s web (Not visible in this photograph).
(The photograph is copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and is used with permission).