THIS AFTERNOON, Fr. Emerson and I paid a visit to the former Catholic Apostolic Church on Mansfield Place in Edinburgh, which is today the Mansfield Traquair Centre. The Catholic Apostolic Church, quite often called the Irvingites after the Church of Scotland minister who laid the basis for its creation, were a curious lot. A discussion of the CAC can be found here at Ship of Fools and, of course, Wikipedia has an article on them. Due to a number of wealthy converts as well as being fairly strict on tithing, the Irvingites were able to build some extraordinarily beautiful buildings, of which the Mansfield Place church is one. Vacated by the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1958, it is now used as a performance venue, and two floors of offices created in the crypt space (entered through a spiral staircase in what was the baptistery) provide a home for the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations.
The building might just be considered another example of Scottish neo-Romanesque architecture were it not for the presence of the ethereal murals by Phoebe Anna Traquair, a leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement. The murals, in effect, are what make this place something else. Though a creation of the 1890’s, their polychromatic composition, Father noted, give us a glance of what the typical great cathedral used to be like. We now think of them as slightly dour, colorless places, but of course places like Nôtre-Dame de Paris et alia were originally painted all shades of glorious colors. This was eventually done away with, certainly by the iconoclasm of the French Revolution and by the Reformation in most other places where it held sway.
The topmost photograph and the one above show the chancel arch and its murals depicting archangles, angels, choirs, saints, martyrs, evangelists, and all sorts.
This close-up of the north arm of the chancel arch shows the three-dimensional nature of Traquair’s work. The murals are certainly short of being bas-reliefs, but the three-dimensionality makes them just that extra bit more intriguing than more conventional murals. Depicting the evangelists with wings, also unconventional.
The rear wall features a mural depicting the final judgement.
The chancel with baldachino, and below, a closer view.
While the baldachino remains, the actual altar itself was removed. It was purchased by us Catholics, and is now the high altar of the nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh.
The painted ceiling of the chancel.
This part of the church confused us slightly. Judging by its current appearence, it looks like it could be a place for the choir, or perhaps a pew reserved for someone of great importance. The plain gray walls were also bemusing, as they seemed far too dull and boring for a church such as this. The answer to both quandaries can be found in older photographs.
This photo of the church while still in use by the Irvingites shows the oddity was actually the organ loft. (Why didn’t we think of that?).
The boring gray walls, on the other hand, were, until recently, a much more appropriate red, as can be seen above in a photo depicting the restoration of the murals. I suppose they were painted gray in order to make the former church more appropriate as a performance and conference venue. The final photo below shows the organ still in place, along with the red walls.
UPDATE: The Secretary of the Mansfield Traquair Trust informs me that the walls were painted red by Café Graffiti which operated the former church as a nightclub and venue in the 1990s. The walls were originally an iron-grey and the Trust decided to paint them buff “as an acceptable compromise”. I originally thought the red would be more appropriate but in retrospect concede that it may have been rather too overwhelming. Café Graffiti also painted the front doors blue, which the Trust restored to their original red. Also, the organ loft is not an organ loft, but merely an organ case. The actual console was located below with the choir. After the church was purchased by the Reformed Baptist Church, the actual organ itself was removed in 1975. The Trust restored the organ case to its original appearence (though sans organ, of course).