Aberdeen’s Churches and Statues

The City of Aberdeen has received widespread acclaim for the rich history and splendour of its churches, which are another good reason why Aberdeen has come to be regarded as Europe’s City of Granite.

Aberdeen has dozens of different churches representing a host of different denominations. In terms of members, the largest one is the Church of Scotland, with its Preysbytery of Aberdeen accounting for 41 parish churches.

This is in stark contrast to the Middle Ages when Aberdeen had only one burgh kirk (a kirk is a Scottish church), the Kirk of St. Nicholas, which today is still one of the largest parish churches in Scotland. After the Reformation, the Kirk of St. Nicholas was subdivided into two, the East and the West churches. Today, its congregation is an ecumenical partnership composed of members of both the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church. The Kirk of St. Nicholas now boasts of a large kirkyard along Union Street that features a 45-meter long Ionic façade erected in 1830. The church has a 67-meter long building with a central tower and spire.

Another prominent church is the Diocese of Aberdeen which was first founded by Mael Coluim II (1005-34) to commemorate his triumph over the Danes. It was later transferred to Old Aberdeen in 1137. The Diocese of Aberdeen covers approximately a third of the land-mass of Scotland. In fact, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen lists more than 70 parishes and mass centres throughout Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands and Orkney and Shetland. The Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption, which is mother church of the Diocese, is likewise located in the City of Aberdeen.

In 1157, construction on St. Machars Cathedral began near the Don River but its completion was slow in coming. It was finally finished around 1518 and, despite substantial damage during the Reformation, is still utilized by the Church of Scotland today. It features two western spires and a southern transept. As part of its vision, St. Machars pledges to minister to all visitors, including the many tourists, who come to the Cathedral. "We seek to support the most vulnerable people in our immediate community and others seeking sanctuary and help, and participate in the wider work of the church in aiding the poor and the suffering at home and overseas," said its website.

By the time the Middle Ages rolled around, both the Carmelites (Whitefriars) and the Franciscans (Greyfriars) had made their presence felt in Aberdeen. The Franciscans in particular were a strong influence and lasted until the early 20th Century through the chapel of Marischal College.

In 1817, St. Andrew’s Cathedral was established as the Scottish Episcopal Cathedral and served as the first commission of Archibald Simpson. The influence of the Episcopal Church in Aberdeen would extend all the way to the United States of America as it gained prominence for having consecrated Samuel Seabury, the USA’s first bishop of the Episcopal Church. One hundred fifty years later, St. Andrew’s Cathedral would be renovated to celebrate 150 years since Seabury’s consecration. The US ambassador to the UK, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., attended the dedication ceremony.

The city centre of Aberdeen hosts two other churches that are still active today: the Bon Accord Free Church on Rosemount viaduct and Gilcomston South Church on the Union Street-Summer Street corner. The other churches in the area had previously been converted into bars and restaurants.

Aside from its churches, Aberdeen also has a number of impressive statues that serve as memorials to its glorious past. Among them is a huge bronze statue of William Wallace adjacent to Union Terrace Gardens. Wallace (c.1270–August 22, 1305) is the knight and Scottish patriot who led the resistance against the English occupation of Scotland during the war for Scottish Independence. He was the inspiration for the 15th century novel "The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie" upon which the 1995 movie "Braveheart" starring Mel Gibson was based.

Near the Wallace statue is a bronze statue of a seated Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (26 August 1819 - 14 December 1861), who was the husband and consort of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Among all the husbands of British queens in history, Prince Albert is the only one to have formally held the title of Prince Consort. After Queen Victoria passed away in 1901, the House of Hanover was succeeded by the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on the British throne.

Another prominent statue is that of Major-General Charles George Gordon fronting Robert Gordon’s College. General Gordon (28 January 1833 – 26 January 1885), a British army officer and administrator, is best known for his exploits in China and northern Africa.

There is also a statue of the British poet Lord Byron in front of the Aberdeen Grammar School. Regarded as a leading figure during the Romanticism period, Lord Byron is considered as one of the greatest European poets in history and remains widely read to this day.

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