St Andrews Cathedral was the largest and most magnificent church in medieval Scotland and even today, as it lies in picturesque ruins, it remains a prominent landmark. Construction began in 1160, on a headland overlooking the North Sea, and took well over a century to complete. The building was erected close to that of its predecessor, St Rules, which still stands today, and was finished in 1318. On the 5th of July it was consecrated in the presence of King Robert Bruce who, according to legend, rode up the aisle on his horse.
The cathedral dominated Scottish religion until 1560, as the headquarters of the Scottish Church. It was also the seat of Scotland’s leading bishops and, from 1472, archbishops.
The cathedral complex, including its Augustinian priory, was encircled by a great precinct wall, which separated this sacred space from the burgh of St Andrews to the west. Today, this precinct wall is the most complete in Scotland – of the original 16 towers, 13 survive, along with four gateways.
Severe damage was inflicted by a storm in the 1270s and then by a fire in 1378. Another storm brought down much of the south transept in 1409. In 1559, a fiery sermon preached by John Knox in the town’s parish church resulted in the congregation attacking the cathedral and tearing down its rich furnishings. The office of the bishop was finally abolished in 1689/90 and, deprived of any function, the cathedral fell into ruin.
This wonderful reconstruction from Open Virtual Worlds shows how St Andrews cathedral may have looked in the year of its consecration.
- St Andrews Castle, Cathedral and Historic Burgh Official Souvenir Guide