A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The church of St. John the Evangelist was completed in 1844 and is an ‘A’ listed building.
The initiative for building the church came from Cecil, Marchioness of Lothian, who had become interested in the ‘Oxford Movement’ and its influential ideas on worship and church architecture.
The architect John Hayward (of the Diocese of Exeter) was commissioned, the main work being placed with local tradesmen, Cranston, Turner and Smith, together with a body of about 75 workmen.
No expense was spared in the building of the church. The list of donors included Queen Victoria, Dowager Queen Adelaide, the Lothian family and many other noble and distinguished benefactors.
Lady Lothian laid the foundation stone on 14th July 1843 and the church was completed in just over a year. It was dedicated by the Bishop of Glasgow on Thursday 15th August 1844, with three other Bishops and forty clergy in attendance. Notable figures from the Oxford Movement included Revd. John Keble, who was one of the preachers during the weekend of celebrations and special services that followed the dedication.
INSIDE THE CHURCH
There is meaning and purpose in everything you see within a church. From the moment you enter, all that you see proclaims that this is a holy place. St. John’s is particularly rich in visual symbols. There is a reason for each carving, for every statue, for the scene on each stained glass window. Even the tiles on the floor have a story to tell … but you have to know how to interpret what lies before you.
♦ → Church Trail
On the south eastern wall of the nave is a 17th Century Russian icon of Jesus’ ‘Entry into Jerusalem’, which combines with the series of modern icons found on the north and south walls.
Traditionally, fourteen ‘Stations of the Cross’ are placed in many churches to allow Christians to carry out a symbolic pilgrimage by visually following the last days of Jesus’ life, known as the Passion, starting with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with His entombment.
St. John’s icons extend the story to include the resurrection and the meeting between the risen Christ and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were painted for us in 1993 by Sister Barbara Anne of the Community of St. Mary the Virgin in Wantage, and are known as the ‘Icons of the Journey’.
The Amnesty candle is found in the south eastern corner of the nave.
Here in the midst of the beautiful Scottish countryside, with freedom to go where we want, say what we feel and express our varying hopes and beliefs, the candle reminds us of those who have suffered and still suffer a life of captivity for their political and personal beliefs.
In the early years, the pews at the front of the nave were free, emphasising that the church was not socially exclusive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was later changed when it was felt more appropriate that the poor should be at the back!
For many years, one of the main sources of church income was the system of pew rents. Families could pay an annual rent to reserve seats for their exclusive use. In 1921, the fee was standardised at five shillings (25p) per seat. The rents were finally abolished in 1952.
The pulpit, like the font and the high altar, is made of Caen stone. The first two were a gift from Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV. The pulpit is entered by a staircase from the Vestry and is used for sermons on major occasions.
On the pricket stand below the pulpit, candles are burned accompanied by a prayer, perhaps for recovery from illness. Pre-dating Christianity, ‘votive’ offerings were made to God in return for a divine favour.
The font is placed to the west of the church door, a position chosen to symbolise the starting point for the Christian’s journey throughout life towards God.
At one time, water was blessed on Easter Day and then used throughout the year for baptisms. The font was fitted with a lid to protect the holy water. Nowadays fresh water is blessed for each baptism service. On the sides of the font are the symbols of the four Evangelists.
The elaborately carved wooden rood screen divides the nave from the chancel.
The word ‘rood’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means ‘Cross’. The rood screen was a common feature in mediaeval times, but was almost unknown in Scottish churches built after the Reformation.
Oxford Movement architects believed that a screen, symbolically separating the building into separate spaces for the congregation and the clergy, would help to restore the central importance of sacramental worship. The figures above it of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. John were added in 1943.
Above the rood screen, the roof arch is prominent. Arches symbolise hands clasped in prayer – see the hands of the Virgin Mary above the rood screen. It is customary for couples to be married beneath the arch.
Visitors are welcome in the chancel, but are asked not to go beyond the altar rail.
The chancel is the area between the rood screen and the altar rail. This area of the church is now occupied by the choir stalls and the organ, but when the church was first built the choir sat at the front of the nave and the organ was above the porch. The congregation would not have entered the chancel except to receive Holy Communion during the celebration of the Eucharist.
The organ is a two-manual Viscount Envoy digital model, installed in 2015 with the help of generous donations from the congregation and the wider community.
Beyond the choir stalls on the right hand side of the chancel are the sedilia, three bays with stepped seats. Originally sedilia were the seats in a Roman amphitheatre. In a church, the same term is used for seats used by officiating clergy. A set of tapestries depicting the six days of the Creation story in the Book of Genesis hangs in the sedilia.
The sanctuary is divided from the chancel by a step and altar rail. The area is reserved for the Priest, and is only entered by lay people when they are helping to prepare for a service or are authorised to assist the Priest during a service.
In the far right hand corner of the sanctuary is the piscina. This shallow basin was designed for washing the sacramental vessels after the Eucharist, so that the used water would be discharged straight to earth. Above it, a small cupboard called an aumbry holds the Reserved Sacrament – bread and wine consecrated for use in taking Communion to members of the congregation who are not well enough to attend services, and for use (with the permission of the Bishop) at a Communion service when a Priest is not available.
The High Altar is the centre of worship and is the Christian symbol for two very different things.
- First, at the time of Christ, it was common Jewish practice to sacrifice an animal to atone for your sins. Christ is seen as having been sacrificed for the saving of mankind and the altar reminds us of this.
- Secondly, at each Eucharist the story is retold of the Last Supper which Jesus had with his Disciples. In this way, the altar is also the table from which the Priest distributes the bread and wine.
Left of the high altar is the credence, a small table used by the Priest in the ceremony of the Eucharist. Like the piscina, this has been made from the Caen stone used extensively in the church ornament.
The portable auxiliary altar is placed at the front of the altar steps, allowing the priest to face the congregation when consecrating the bread and wine so as to emphasise that all participants are equal before God.
Tiles A particular feature of the church is the array of beautiful tiles throughout the nave, chancel and sanctuary.
These were made by Minton & Company, Stoke-on-Trent. Even the chancel roof is tiled, in blue porcelain tiles presented by Herbert Minton himself. Take the time to study the tiles as they are full of symbolism. They would have been amongst the last items to be installed, possibly after the dedication.
The enamelled tiles behind the altar were installed by the architect instead of the screen, or “reredos”, found behind the altar in many churches, and were designed by Augustus Pugin of House of Commons fame. The tiles immediately above the altar were rediscovered during extensive restoration works in 2006 – 7, having been obscured by a wooden reredos erected in the 1930s. Some of these tiles remind us of the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. They show a Pillar with Money Bag, Five Wounds with a Cross, Robe, Ladder with Thorns, Dice and Sponge, Lantern, Cockerel, Nail heads and Cross and Scourges.
On the floor of the chancel, there is the Saltire with its familiar motto “Faith, Hope, Peace and Charity” as well as other texts. Four tiles show the symbols of the four Evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. On the sanctuary steps are the Beatitudes, for example ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’, and on the chancel steps, similar biblical inscriptions.
Elsewhere you will find monogram tiles of those who donated large sums to pay for the Church.
As you pass down the chancel and nave, look up and beneath each roof beam you will see a head carved in Caen stone. Some are crowned female heads and some are bearded Saxon bishops .
Traditionally the axis of a Christian church runs east to west, with the altar at the east end. This choice pre-dates Christianity; it is the direction from which the sun rises and the new day is born. East is associated with light, hope and rebirth. West is the direction of the dying sun, the end of day and darkness. It is associated with judgment, doom and death. Stained glass windows often follow this concept or some variant.
St John’s east window above the altar represents the Way to the Cross (left), the Ascension (centre) and the Agony in the Garden (right), reminding us of the heart of the Christian message:
The coats of arms of the Lothian Family are shown below the two eastern windows. In the Sanctuary, the single windows show the Raising of Lazarus and Jesus blessing the children.
The west window shows St John the Evangelist leading the Virgin Mary away from the Crucifixion (left), the Entombment of Jesus (centre) and the Empty Tomb (right):
On the north side of the nave, two windows show the coats of arms of the Bishop of Durham (left) and Glasgow (right). St. John’s was in the Glasgow Diocese until boundary changes in 1888, since when it has been in the Diocese of Edinburgh. Before 1100, this part of Scotland was in the Diocese of Durham.
OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
You enter the churchyard through a lychgate designed by the distinguished Victorian architect, William Butterfield. The lychgate was originally intended to shelter pallbearers, who could not enter the churchyard for a funeral service until the relatives had presented the death certificate to the priest. Only then could the funeral service proceed.
One grave of particular note is that of Catherine MacMillan Scott who was baptised and buried at St John’s. When she was refused training in nursing because of her frail health, she joined one of the religious orders founded by the Oxford Movement in the name of Sister Margaret and spent her life caring for orphans and the destitute of Manchester. She died tragically early at the age of 34 from a disease caught during her work. The former Cottage Hospital in Jedburgh was named after her in her honour.
We are grateful to:
- The National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS).
- Sandy Ryrie for extracts from his book “A Vision Pursued”.
- Richard Taylor, whose book “How to Read a Church” provided much useful information.