10.3 Construction phases of the church

Initial construction of the stone church building is likely to have taken place in the late 13th century, and therefore at least within 30 years of the friary's foundation c. 1270. However five phases of 'medieval' activity have been identified as having taken place on the site before the stone church was built, all broadly attributed to the 13th century with the exception of Phase 1a, which could have occurred, from pottery evidence, as early as the 12th century. These phases seem to show a progression from relatively open ground with some signs of cultivation, on the fringes of more developed land elsewhere, possibly with some light industrial usage, to drained building site with eventually several wooden structures which may have been either constructed for or adapted for the Carmelites when they arrived. Management of water in more than one sense seems to have been a perpetual issue at this site, from prehistory onwards and drainage was clearly a priority in Phase 2, possibly at the stage where initial preparation of the site for the friary was taking place. Utilisation of water, both in the construction process and later to support habitation, was evident at this site. A temporary lead piping system seems to have existed prior to or during the construction of the stone church, and at a later stage a water pipe was placed in a conduit through the walls of the church and ran down the east side of the west range, possibly supplying the kitchen or lavatorium or both. It is interesting to note that the first burials have been attributed to the same phase (Phase 4) as the temporary water supply, presumably creating for us an image of a place where the friars were living, undertaking their religious observances and interacting with the burgh population, while preparing to build in stone.

Both archaeological and historical evidence can make contributions to our understanding of the internal appearance of the Aberdeen Carmelites' stone church, and by inference perhaps to the layout of any earlier timber chapel that may have existed. We have references to at least three altars in the period between 1350 and 1506, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, her mother St Anne and the Holy Cross. There was at least one image of the Virgin from as early as 1275, while undoubtedly other statues were also present (see Section 4.3). Although the location of the excavations within the church did not include any part of the east end, it is certain that there would have been one or more choir or rood screens between nave and chancel areas, probably of wood or possibly of stone (Stones 1989, 24-5), and it is very possible that one or more of the altars were placed on the west wide of that screen.

Although the interior would perhaps have been relatively plain, colour would have been apparent in altar hangings and retables, as well as in painted wall decoration. Such features can only be the matter of assumption or speculation, unfortunately, but we do have some evidence of green, brown and yellow-glazed floor tiles, possibly from the choir, as well as some flashes of blue and red within the otherwise muted grisaille windows. As Fawcett indicates, in relation to medieval ecclesiastical architecture in general, the small amount of surviving evidence suggests the use of both figurative and decorative elements in interior design, with the former including biblical scenes as well as those from everyday life (Fawcett 2002, 321.5). At Aberdeen Whitefriars, the only available evidence is from fragments of stained and painted glass, where only decorative pieces have remained. However, as the friars did fulfil an educational role within the community, it may well be that figurative scenes did exist in the form of wall paintings, an embellishment which has been postulated in the 3D model.


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