Seeing Christ in Aberdeen

Since images of Christ have been the subject of two recent posts (here and here), I feel it appropriate to share here some pictures I took in Aberdeen, since I did a lot more than buy the poems of St John of the Cross whilst there!

Our first evening in Aberdeen, my parents and I took a pre-dinner stroll that included St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, founded in 1859 (I come by my many church visists honestly!). When you enter St Mary’s sanctuary, what confronts you is a large, modern crucifix that feels like it has Romanesque influences on it:

aberdeen st mary's crucifix



In one of the windows, you then see scenes from the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, reminding us of the narrative element both of Scripture and of great Christian art.


To the left of the chancel above an altar is this painting of Jesus, complete with the Sacred Heart, yet not as tamed as those I’ve critiqued — indeed, he looks a little Middle Eastern here:


The Stations of the Cross in this cathedral are all mosaic and modern, yet discernably themselves — nothing weird or strange. They are striking and draw the viewer in powerfully. Here is a close-up of Christ on the cross:


Striking modern images that use old motifs with contemporary stylings recurred in Aberdeen. The next day, we walked past my Grandpa’s birthplace then up to King’s College Chapel, which has a great crown spire like St Giles’, Edinburgh.


Inside, there are some traditional Victorian stained glass windows (the oldest stained glass in Scotland is all late Victorian). None of the Victorian windows I photographed has Christ in it, though. I am curious to know what the oldest Presbyterian image of Christ in Scotland is!

I did, however, photograph the windows by Douglas Strachan, the  famous Scottish stained glass artist of the early 20th century whose windows can be found in the Scottish National War Memorial and St Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Glasgow Cathedral, and Dunfermline Abbey (to list only those I’ve seen). In his window in the centre of the East wall there is a crucifixion scene:IMG_3356


Strachan’s Christ here feels very 1920s, if you ask me (non-art historian that I am!). He stands enthroned as King on the cross, rather than hanging in death. The image of Christ hanging in death is a more Gothic vision, whereas as earlier Romanesque had favoured images where Christ was still somehow in power. The theology of that is that Christ chose the Cross as His throne, as the place where His power was most evident — the place of lowest human weakness.

Up the road from King’s College is St Machar’s Cathedral, now a parish church of the Church of Scotland (so not really a cathedral anymore). Although there are Douglas Strachan windows here as well, none of what I photographed had Christ in it!


Within, the first Christ I saw was in the central panel of the tri-partite East window:




This window, reminiscent stylistically of Douglas Strachan, is the newest in St Machar’s, by William Wilson in 1953. In contrast to the Strachan window above, Wilson has depicted Christ hanging on the Cross, showing us the moment of death, the sorrow of what the Saviour endured for us.

On the South (right-hand) wall is found a window from 1877 by Clayton and Bell in honour of a minister of St Machar’s, Robert Smith, and his wife. It is a ‘traditional’ Victorian window, depicting a blond Christ in glory bound to raise a few hackles today:



The final Christ I photographed was from a window by the mid-twentieth-century stained glass artist Margaret Chilton. On the left we see the brazen serpent in the wilderness, on the right the crucifixion of Christ, recalling the Johannine typology.

IMG_3397These are the images of Christ I saw in Aberdeen. Each of them speaks a different aspect of the multifaceted Truth of his life, death, resurrection, and reign in glory. I trust that they may inspire you in a deep and abiding way to worship the Lord in the spirit of holiness.

4 thoughts on “Seeing Christ in Aberdeen

  1. Thank you for the beautiful post. I have a couple of dumb questions which, to compound the problem, I’m afraid I’m not going to word very well.

    My questions deal with the picture from, I think, the Aberdeen Cathedral, the painting of Christ above an altar. Your caption says “complete with the Sacred”? Are you referring to the Tabernacle? The painting is beautiful and reminds me of an icon, I think it’s very nicely done.

    Also, as a Catholic, I’d be curious to know if that is the central altar in the Cathedral. It looks to be arranged “ad orientum” as in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I find it interesting if that’s the case since so few churches here in the U.S. are set up like that any more.

    Anyway, the photos are beautiful and some nice art work is being done in Scotland which is nice to see. R.M.

    • Re your first question, that was a typo I have fixed: should have read ‘Sacred Heart’! Sorry about that. It is a very lovely image, and I hope to see a movement towards a modern yet iconic style elsewhere in the future.

      The altar shown is in the north aisle of the cathedral — the central altar faces West.

      You are welcome for the post; I am glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post, Matthew! Krista and I got to see St Machar’s Cathedral when we visited Aberdeen but King’s College Chapel was closed, alas! So fun to see all these closeups, which provide much more detail than you can usually get in person. We are now definitely Strachan fans! (Loved the War Memorial!)

    • Glad you liked the post! Too bad King’s College Chapel was closed! Strachan is definitely worth everyone’s time. I was just sitting beneath one of his windows in New College Library while working yesterday. 🙂

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