In Corbusian terms a church may perhaps be regarded as essentially a machine for praying in. If the buildings erected for that purpose in the middle ages are to be adequately understood, it is important that the development and range of the liturgy, and the ways in which it influenced the design, furnishings and range of uses of the churches is understood.
In recent decades there has been a welcome renewal of scholarly interest in the medieval liturgy (for example, Hefferman and Matter 2001). There has also been an increasing interest in the ways the liturgy was reflected in church buildings (as in Draper 1987; Klukas 1989; Reynolds 1989) and as seen most recently in a general study by Allan Doig (Doig 2008).
However, it should be said that in Scotland there has so far been only limited evidence of this renewal of interest. Such interest as there has been is best seen in the work of the late Monsignor David McRoberts (1957), and to a narrower extent in the collection of essays edited by D. Forrester and D. Murray (1984) and in the work of Gordon Donaldson (1990). A major reason for the limited interest in the inter-relationship of liturgical practices and architectural forms is that, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, nearly all Scottish churches underwent one or more major rebuildings and reorderings to fit them for the changing forms of reformed worship. This largely obscured the visible evidence for the ways in which they had hitherto been furnished and used in the middle ages. Perversely enough, the efforts to re- medievalise many churches in the course of the ecclesiological revival at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often added a further measure of confusion to the picture.
Nevertheless, there have been a number of studies of individual aspects of church fixtures and furnishings (for example Brydall 1895; Hannah 1936; McRoberts 1965; Richardson 1928; Richardson 1929 Walker 1887). These papers look at the particular furnishings in isolation, though a number of scholars have made a serious effort to understand how some of the more portable items that are known to have found their way into church treasuries reflected and conditioned liturgical requirements. A great deal of valuable work was carried out by Bishop John Dowden (1899) and by Francis Eeles (1917 and 1956). However, as with the study of liturgy, the most important contribution to the understanding of how churches were fitted out to provide it’s setting, based largely on a study of the documentation, was made by David McRoberts. This was in his 1969/70 Rhind lectures on the furnishings of medieval churches, which have now been edited by Stephen Holmes (McRoberts and Holmes forthcoming 2012).
Lincluden was one of two colleges founded by the third earl of Douglas, where prayers were to be be offered for his family’s welfare in life and their salvation after death. But most of the existing church was built for Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert III and wife of the fourth earl of Douglas, and was probably the work of the French mason John Morow. The collegiate churches founded for the great magnate families, which were amongst the most splendid buildings of later medieval Scotland, made provision for a magnificent daily round of worship, the best pointers to which are now liturgical fixtures such as these. Research into all aspects of the collegiate churches will be the subject of a PhD studentship attached to the second phase of the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches project which is based at the Universities of St Andrews and Stirling.
Much work remains to be done, and in carrying out this work it would almost certainly be simplistic to make a general assumption that architectural form invariably – or even commonly – follows function. A recent study of churches associated with the cults of saints, for example, appears to suggest that a particular range of functions did not necessarily lead to the adoption of particular architectural forms (Fawcett 2007). If a clearer understanding of the relationship between liturgy and architecture is to be developed a range of approaches is required:
- The development of a clearer understanding of the development of the medieval liturgy: In (1957) McRoberts suggested the following sequence: 1) a Sarum-dominated liturgy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; 2) independent developments in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and 3) after an abortive attempt to develop specifically Scottish practices, a period of decline dominated by Roman liturgy in the sixteenth century . The later medieval period is to be more closely examined in an Edinburgh University PhD by Stephen Holmes, which has the provisional title of The interpretation of liturgy in Scotland 1510-1645.
- The analysis of the documentation associated with church furnishings: Further work on church inventories is likely to be particularly helpful in this area, and the list of such inventories published by McRoberts (McRoberts 1953) is a valuable starting point. It must also be reiterated that McRoberts’ Rhind lectures were based on the inventories, as was much of the work of John Dowden (1899) and Francis Eeles (1917 and 1956)
- Consideration of the evidence of surviving liturgical furnishings: McRoberts’ Rhind lectures are again of prime importance as a starting point here (McRoberts 2009). More recently the present writer has briefly discussed some of the surviving material (Fawcett 2002). This area of work must extend beyond the surviving fixtures and furnishings, however, to give closer consideration to the structural archaeology for evidence of the previous location of missing features, such as the evidence for how furnishings were located and fixed in place, or the enlargement of windows associated with altars.
- The more systematic spatial analysis of church buildings: A leading exponent of this approach in England has been Pamela Graves (1989; 2000). The less complex spatial articulation of the majority of Scottish churches means that this approach is less rewarding than in England, though there is probably more scope for investigation than has been assumed.
- More sensitive analysis of evidence located in the course of excavation: This should extend to more careful analysis of fugitive evidence such as wear patterns on floor surfaces which has sometimes made it possible to identify indicators of traffic routes and of areas of increased footfall around parts of enhanced liturgical significance. Such approaches could perhaps be more stringently and consistently applied in investigations at later medieval sites.