From ancient Turkey to Bute

The Bute Family Mausoleum, located in Rothesay Cemetery, in the grounds of the United Church of Bute.
The Bute Family Mausoleum, located in Rothesay Cemetery, in the grounds of the United Church of Bute.

Last week at the Lit the speaker, Stephen Brown, surprised and fascinated his audience with his talk on the history of the mausoleum.

It was an intriguing angle from which to view a period of Scottish history.

A mausoleum can be defined as a monumental or functional above ground tomb, that contains the bodies of the dead.

The name comes from King Mausolus, the fourth century ruler whose spectacularly ornate tomb at Halicarnassus (in modern Turkey) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Of course, the more recent Scottish mausolea are on nothing like that scale. Stephen explained that the oldest post-Reformation mausoleum was built in 1594 at Kilbirnie Auld Kirk for the bodies of Sir Thomas Craufurd and his family.

In Catholic pre-Reformation times the nobility always tried to be buried inside the church as close to the altar as possible.

The changed theology in post- Reformation discouraged this and brought forward the idea that a separate roofed building, with or without an effigy inside, could emulate the cave where Jesus was buried.

Stephen went on to describe different architectural styles throughout the following 500 years and showed slides of some notable examples eg David Hume and Robert Adam in Edinburgh, the 1858 mausoleum for the Duke of Hamilton, and the many in Glasgow Necropolis.

Here in Rothesay, St Mary’s Chapel was originally built as a place of worship. The monumental tombs with effigies now inside date from the 13-1400s. Behind the United Church of Bute stands the red sandstone mausoleum used by earlier generations of the Stewart family.

This was a very unusual topic for the Lit but Stephen Brown shared his passion for mausolea and his concerns that there is no funding available to maintain or restore this rich seam of our heritage.

On November 21, the talk will be “My Father, George Orwell” by Richard Blair, the renowned author’s stepson, at 7.30pm in the Baptist Church, King Street.