The Skelmorlie Aisle
The Skelmorlie Aisle is a gem of Renaissance architecture which is
unique in Scotland. It has an elaborate carved stone tomb in
Italian-baroque style with a painted timber ceiling above, showing
lively scenes illustrating the seasons. It was built in 1636 as a shrine
by a Scottish knight to keep alive the memory of his wife Dame Margaret
Montgomerie, daughter of Sir William Douglas of Drumlanrig, who had been
killed in a riding accident a few years earlier. Sir Robert Montgomerie
was the 7th baron of Skelmorlie (a village a few miles along the coast
from Largs where Sir Robert had his castle).
|The Skelmorlie Aisle, a shrine to Dame Margaret Montgomerie
|Coat of arms of Sir Robert Montgomerie above the doorway.
Note initials for Robert Montgomerie and Margaret Douglas
|Ceiling panel - click image to enlarge
|In The Statistical account of Buteshire, 1841, it is
recorded that 'The family arms, cutout in one entire stone,
with the family motto, Garde Men at the head, and the names
of both the proprietors, Sir Robert Montgomerie, and Dame
Margaret Douglas at the foot, still served to ornament the
front of the old parish church till 1837, when the church
was rebuilt, and when, of course, that ancient stone was
removed, and it now occupies a corner in the manse garden.'
The mausoleum was
built as an extension to the original parish church in Largs(1) in 1636,
lying at right angles to the side of the main building. That old kirk
first appears on record as far back as 1263. When the main part of the
old church was demolished in 1802 following the construction of a
replacement parish church nearby, the communicating arch was built up
and this aisle or burial place was left to stand on its own. Internally,
the building housing the tomb is just 29 feet long by 16 feet 6 inches
wide. It has remained like that ever since as a monument to Sir Robert
When Sir Robert died, he joined his wife
in the burial vault in another lead casket. Later, Margaret's presence
was said to haunt Skelmorlie Castle. Another casket joined the husband
and wife, said to be holding the remains of his ancestor, Sir Hugh
Montgomerie of Eaglesham who had been killed around 250 years earlier at
the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. One of the graves in the burial ground
surrounding the mausoleum is of Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, who in
1821 was the Governor of New South Wales, Australia and gave his name to
the River and City of Brisbane in Australia.
In his early years,
Sir Robert had been notorious for his ferocious pursuit of the feud with
the neighbouring Cunningham family (his lands had earlier belonged to
the Cunninghams). But the death of his wife after 36 years of marriage
convinced him that he should do penance by constructing the tomb to her
memory and regularly praying at the memorial.
Sir Robert is said
to have travelled at night the five miles from his castle at Skelmorlie
to pray at midnight in the tomb below the ornate monument where the body
of his dead wife lay in a lead casket. A story is told of a local
warlock bringing the Devil along with him to do a mischief to Sir
Robert. However the laird was deep in prayer as usual and the Devil was
forced to give up on his evil intent!
The Renaissance canopied
tomb of undressed Italian marble stands above the burial-vault entrance.
It is 18 feet high, reaching almost to the timbered ceiling and 11½ feet
long and 5 feet broad. It is regarded as one of the most ancient and
ornate in Scotland. Sir Robert would kneel, praying, in the tomb below
the monument where his wife's leaded burial casket lay. There is a verse
in Latin carved on a panel of the monument giving a brief outline of
Margaret Montgomerie's life. In translation reads:
For twice ten
years and four a maid,
For thirty-six, a wedded wife,
Lucina bring her aid,
And two fair children blest my life.
The image of his sire, my boy
Survives the hope of all our race,
But death, commissioned to destroy,
My daughter tore from my
Of gentle soul and gentle birth,
And clad in beauty
fair to see,
Loved by my God and lived on earth,
God now is all
in all to me
The painted barrel vaulted timber ceiling is in
vernacular style, with lively scenes in 41 sections illustrating the
seasons along with the Montgomerie coat of arms and monogram, texts from
the Scriptures, several views of the castle at Skelmorlie and signs of
the Zodiac. The main panels were painted by an artist named J. S Stalker
The springtime scene depicts people ploughing and
preparing the soil for seed, figures fishing on the riverbank and
horsemen and dogs chasing a stag and a hind. The panel illustrating
summer shows sheep-shearing and hay cutting and stacking. There is a
representation of the Aisle and the original church in this section. The
Autumn panel shows barrels apparently filled with grain and the Swan Inn
(it has a sign of a swan above the entrance) and other thatched
buildings. Winter shows a frozen river and people skating on it.
One panel depicts the figure of a lady in long robes with a cape thrown
back from her shoulders as she admires the antics of a prancing
stallion. This may represent Lady Margaret Montgomerie herself?
There is also a heraldic panel bearing four Coats of Arms within a large
diamond painted frame representing the houses of Drumlanrig, Lochinvar,
Eglinton and Sempill, ancestral lines of Sir Robert and Lady Margaret.
Other panels (drawn to a higher standard than the four seasons)
depict biblical stories such as Adam and Eve, with various symbolical
items such as rings (for eternity) and a peacock (for vanity).
1. Largs parish church, was dedicated
to St Columba (Orig Paroch Scot 1851) and which belonged to Paisley
Abbey, first appears on record in 1263. The present church (at NS 2045
5962) was built in 1812, when its predecessor, in the now disused burial
ground, was taken down. A fragment of the S wall containing a monument
to the Boyles of Kelburne was allowed to remain, though it had to be
removed later for burials. 'The church was of unknown age and of great
strength, the piece of wall mentioned above being about 4ft thick and
very compact. It is therefore probable that the demolished church may
have, in whole or in part, formed the original church of Largs.
2. More photographs can be found
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