Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Bicentenary of Saint John's, Parts 1 and 2


                          The Bicentenary of St John’s

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, Princes Street, Edinburgh was consecrated in March 1818

                                      CANTO ONE
                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.
                                It's far 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?

                                                CANTO TWO

                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”,
                Needed the Ts to cross and Is to dot.
                                So if on May the Sixth your spirits fly, go
                                Drink a toast to Forbes of Pitsligo.

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