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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016598

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The Skelmorlie burial-aisle is all that now survives of the former 'old kirk' of Largs and is renowned for its unusual burial monument and fine painted ceiling. Sir Robert Montgomery ofSkelmorlie added the aisle to the church in 1636 to serve as a burial place for himself and his wife, Dame Margaret Douglas, and when the church was demolished in 1802 the aisle was left as a freestanding building.

The aisle is entered from the west through an unusual doorway above which there is a painted amorial panel bearing the arms of Montgomery and Eglinton (for Sir Robelt) and those of Douglas and Mar (for Dame Margaret). Inside there is an elaborate Renaissance style burial monument which forms the focal point of the interior. It is without parallel in Scotland and is remarkable for the refinement of its Netherlandish detail. Carved from local freestone, it takes the form of a triumphal archway surmounted by strapwork, finials and chembs, and is raised on a dais or gallery over a burial-vault which still contains the lead coffins of Sir Robert and his wife. Originally, the monument would have been brightly painted, like the armorial panel above the doorway, and was designed to include a pair of recumbent effigies but either these have not survived or they were never added. Today, an iron helm has been placed in the position that should have been occupied by the effigies. The design of the monument is probably based on Anglo-Dutch models and engravings, the construction itself being carried out by local craftsmen.

The ceiling of the aisle is a boarded barrel-vault richly embellished with painted decoration, in a style fashionable during the first half of the 17th century. It is, however, rare to see such decoration in a church as it is normally found only in secular contexts. The framework of the decoration is designed to imitate a stone vault, with painted scenes filling the spaces formed by the ribs. Included within the decoration there are texts from the Geneva Bible (popular in Scotland prior to the introduction of the King James version), signs of the zodiac and the imaginary arnlS of the tribes of Israel. Above the texts there are six scenes; those at the corners represent the four seasons, with Summer (behind and to the left of the monument) showing the aisle and the old kirk, while at the centre there are two prospects of Largs itself An inscription gives the name of the painter as J Stalker and the date 1638.

The graveyard contains at least two other features of note. Firstly, the rectangular burial-vault of the Brisbane family which lies to the west of the custodian's office. Sir Thomas Brisbane was appointed governor-general of New South Wales, Australia in 1821, and gave his name to the state capital. Secondly, tucked in between the Brisbane vault and the graveyard wall, there is a reconstructed bronze-age cist, moved to its present position after discovery elsewhere in the parish.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

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