Dec. 4th, 2012

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It's been several centuries since the Collegiate Church of Castle Semple fell into disuse - it was no doubt a casualty of the Reformation, which was a shame, since it must have performed a valuable secondary function of educating the locals. Lord John's determination to support education perhaps explains why a number of late 16th century Sempills were renowned for their skills in writing poetry.  Arguably the most famous of these was Robert Semple, who penned the original version of the Robert Burns classic, Auld Lang Syne - his poetry is featured in the collected works of the Sempill poets, which can be viewed on-line here:-

http://archive.org/details/poemsofsempillso01semp

The Semples eventually sold their estate to the McDowall family, who were nouveau riche family who made their money from the trading of sugar and slaves.  Thankfully, the church was retained as a landscape feature - indeed it was still in use recently as a mausoleum for some of the local gentry.

This view of the church clearly shows how it was originally subdivided into two storeys - I wonder if this would have functioned as a laird's loft, where the Sempill lords could attend services without having to mingle with their estate workers:-

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Perhaps the most remarkable part of the church is, however, John, 1st Lord Sempill's tomb:-

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It marks the resting place of Lord John and his second wife, Margaret Crichton of Ruthvendeny, but whether Lord John actually made it here is open to question.  He died in battle, and the chances are that his body wound up dumped in a mass grave somewhere in Northumberland.  The presence of the tomb also causes much head-scratching.  The assumption is that it postdates his death in 1513, but the chances are he started making plans for it and perhaps even constructing it before he died.  He lost his first wife while the church was being built, and this may have sparked off an acknowledgement of his own mortality.

There is no effigy - instead, the shelf within the tomb (which is located in the north wall of the chancel, near the altar) would have functioned as an Easter Sepulchre.  The consecrated host would be placed within this space in Good Friday, representing the body of Christ waiting for the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This meant that the incumbents within the tomb would be granted maximum spiritual brownie points.

It's not wearing well, unfortunately.  19th century drawings show the inscriptions and the sculpture very clear, but even over the last decade or so we've seen a deterioration in the quality.  It clearly isn't deemed sufficiently high in quality to merit protection, which is unfortunate, because it's an unusual survival round here, and a focus of local interest and affection.

Even today, the tomb can be a curious focus of attention.  I've seen it stashed with the empty cans and bottles of someone's 'cairry-oot', but on the day J visited it to try and take photos for the website, he found this:-

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If you look closely, you'll find that it's dedicated to animal victims of war.

I don't know if it was meant to be there, and I'm not even sure that Lord John would approve, but I find it rather poignant and lovely.





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