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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

My kind of church


The south chapel murals depict the first part of the parable of the ten virgins (i.e., the wise and foolish virgins).

On Sunday, thanks to my new friend Kate (‘blessed by Kates’, as I like to say), I was able to visit the Mansfield Traquair Centre, a deconsecrated church full of the most wonderful murals I’ve seen outside of Italy. (This building is actually called ‘Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel’, although tourists don’t generally hear about it; it seems like they have sufficient income through space rental that they don’t need to push for tourism.) It’s only open to the public one Sunday afternoon per month, so I was very fortunate to be able to go!


The neo-Romanesque chancel arch, featuring the first set of murals (1895-1897). The worship of heaven as given in the Books of Ezekiel and Revelation.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was the foremost artist of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. She spent eight years on these murals, doing hardly any preparatory drawings before sketching the figures right onto the walls. This is a particularly stunning achievement given the curved surfaces of the chapel ceiling.


I wasn’t surprised to hear that she took a holiday to Italy before returning to start the south chapel murals, because the virgins all have Botticelli coifs!


Two of the four angels symbolizing the ministries of the Catholic Apostolic Church: the Prophet in blue and the Pastor in silver (the other two are the Evangelist in scarlet and the Apostle in gold).

Notice how bright and joyous it all is? The Catholic Apostolic Church, founded in 1835, basically cherry-picked their favorite bits from the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions, so at a Catholic Apostolic service you would find vividly colored vestments and incense, but but no crucifixes (why dwell on Christ’s suffering when you can celebrate his resurrection?) or last judgment scenes with demons dragging damned souls down into hell (they believed everyone could be saved). Sounds like my kind of church apart from that whole imminent-second-coming business; too bad it doesn’t exist anymore! (If I remember correctly, the New Apostolic church, founded after a schism in the 1860s, is still in existence.)

The great west wall was completed in 1901.


The north aisle features the conclusion of the parable of the ten virgins. The ornamentation on the walls and sloped ceiling are reminiscent of both William Morris and medieval illuminated manuscripts.

P1020359The happiest Judgment Day you will ever see.

So if you are coming to Edinburgh and are a huge art history nerd like I am, it’s worth planning your visit around the opening days! I believe it’s open daily during the theatre festival in August.

2 Comments to My kind of church

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    February 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    WOW! I know I’m stating the obvious, but that is absolutely AMAZING!!!

  2. February 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink


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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.