Dec. 2nd, 2012

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And now an introduction to a personal favourite of mine.  It's one of my local monuments, built in 1504 by John, 1st Lord Sempill, who just so happens to be the hero of my forthcoming novel Fire And Sword which will be hitting the shelves in the summer of 2013 (not too long to wait now, woo hoo!!!).

It was built in 1504, and as well as providing a place of worship for Lord John and his family, it also functioned as a 'sang schule' (or song school) for the sons of local families, who would learn basic skills in reading, writing (presumably in Scots and Latin) and also in music. Particular reference is given to polyphony, which was coming into vogue at the time as epitomised by the work of the wonderful Robert Carver, who was active in the court of King James IV:-


The foundation charters of this church still survive, giving a detailed insight into the duties of the resident clergy and giving strict guidelines regarding their moral behaviour. A clergyman would be dismissed, for example, for frasternising with prositutes...

The church itself is very much an example of local vernacular architecture.  It gets a very bad write-up from the esteemed building historian Professor Richard Fawcett, who implied that it was architecturally illiterate.  Okay, so maybe it's not exactly splendid late Gothic with elaborate tracery and carving to-diefor?  Well, it's ours, so please don't knock it.  And hey, for a humble lord who wasn't exactly in the same league as the Douglases and the Sinclairs and the other wealthy donors who funded the building of elaborate churches at this time, it's not a bad effort.  Considering Renfrewshire and Ayrshire were pretty much like the Wild West when it was built, it was a brave attempt by Lord John to even try and shine the light of civilisation in a world where feuding and violence was still rife.


It's unclear whether the apsidal east end was part of the original build, or added after the death of Lord John, whose memorial tomb we''ll see later in the week.  The windows are all built to slightly different designs, which is odd, and which adds to the general impression of architectural chaos.  I like to imagine that the patron, faced with the terrible choice of deciding which form of window to use, couldn't decide and just opted for one of each!  


The other puzzle is why such a minor lord chose to build such an edifice in the first place. A former colleague once said that collegiate churches were built for one of three reasons: 1) the patron was particularly devout; 2) the patron had done something dubious and feared he'd p****d off either God, or the church, or 3) the patron was trying to appear wealthy and powerful by showing his neighbours he had the financial ability to construct and run such an instituion.

In this case?  Local legend has it that Lord John managed to offend the Bishop of Glasgow, the beautifully and appropriately named Bishop Blacader (who managed to die on board ship in the Mediterranean while travelling on a pilgrimage to the middle east). 

As for the truth?  Who knows?  Though I've found plenty of possible explanations in the course of writing this novel, I must admit!


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