The Bicentenary of St John’s
The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, Princes Street, Edinburgh was consecrated in March 1818
Think 1818. George III was king
And Europe was awash with creativity.
“Heart of Midlothian” was Scott’s new thing;
The Marx couple celebrated Karl’s nativity;
Gruber wrote “Stille Nacht for us to sing.
The list o’erwhelms a heart of sensitivity.
The list’s too long! In fact it might be speedier
To look the whole lot up in Wikipedia.
And, don’t forget, this year did Mary Shelley
Conceive her famous Doctor Frankenstein.
(I say “conceive”. He was not in her belly,
Rather her fecund fantasy divine.)
I guess the Shelley household was a melée
Of quill, ink, paper – all the author’s line.
And this, in fact, was rather handy as
Her Percy Bysshe was writing “Ozymandias”.
But what about the Athens of the North,
Then slithering from off its lofty perch,
Street by new street towards the Firth of Forth?
The old crown jewels were found after a search
(That Scott again) and many a man of worth
Thought the New Town should have another church.
So, just as Byron started on “Don Juan”
Why, Daniel Sandford thought he’d build a new one.
These lines may make a nest for some church mice,
Or act on my friend Dorp like an emetic,
But “Cornerstone” is free, so there’s no price;
I trust my readers to be sympathetic.
A bicentenary doesn’t happen twice
So it seems right to pen some sort of epic.
And what could better suit a bold romancer
Than write his verse in a Byronic stanza?
This Sandford – Bishop Daniel, I should say –
Dreamed of a new church for a new season.
His diocese perhaps would point the way
From the Enlightenment and Age of Reason
To post-Napoleonic piety. A day
For Godly worship to confound the heathen.
He wanted most (and bless his cotton socks)
A Gothic temple, not a preaching box.
Let’s have, he thought, stained glass; a solemn file
Of lofty pillars, drifting ever higher
Towards the vaulted ceiling in the style
Called “Perpendicular”. Let’s have a choir
Engendering pious musings. All the while
He planned two churches piskies to inspire.
And first of these two New Town Gothic halls
Was Ps and Gs – in those days just St Pauls.
But churches aren’t just castles in the air,
Whether for Kirk Established or some sect.
They must stand up; put up with wear and tear.
They’re stone and mortar, lead and glass, bedecked
With ornament. And they must have a care;
“Authentic Gothic detail” would be checked.
You need an architect. They chose to turn
To the young, up-and-coming William Burn.
An architect is not the only thing.
By no means! There are plans to make. A lot
Of funds to raise and give, donors to bring
And many legal tangles to unknot.
We had the man! Wealth, energy and “zing”.
So if on March Nineteenth your spirits fly, go
Drink a toast to Forbes of Pitsligo.