Building & History
We often need to be reminded that the church is the people, not the building. The congregation here is much older than the present church building. Its roots go back to the time when Episcopalians were forced out of the parish churches of the city after the deposition of James VII (James II of England). Early records are lost, but it is known that the congregation existed in 1716 when Andrew Jaffrey, formerly parish minister of Alford, became minister of this congregation. A number of meeting houses were used before John Skinner built his house in the Long Acre in 1776, the upper room of which was used as a chapel.
It was in Aberdeen on 14 November 1784 that Samuel Seabury of Connecticut was consecrated Bishop for America, the first Bishop outside the British isles of what we now call the Anglican Communion. A plaque in the Quadrangle of Marischal College commemorates this notable event. America, on account of the Revolution was now outside the King’s authority and since Bishops could only be consecrated with that authority Seabury had to come north to the dis-established Episcopal Communion in Scotland to seek ordination to the episcopate.
Seabury’s consecration by Bishop Kilgour of Aberdeen, Bishop Petrie of Moray and John Skinner, who was Rector of this congregation and Co-adjutor Bishop of Aberdeen, forced the established Church of England and Parliament to legislate; making it possible for bishops to be created for the Colonies of the Empire. Had this not happened, the Anglican Communion might be very different from what it is today.
The Jacobite sympathies of Episcopalians in the 18th century brought upon them Penal laws which made the building of churches illegal and severely limited the size of congregations. After these laws were repealed in 1792, a chapel was built next to Bishop Skinner’s house, Saint Andrew’s Chapel, where the congregation worshipped for 25 years. The present building on King Street was opened in 1817, Bishop John Skinner laying the foundation stone. It was the first of many buildings in the city designed by Archibald Simpson who was born in Aberdeen and became famous for planning the new town of Edinburgh. The original building consisted of the present nave minus the roof decorations. There were galleries all the way round, and at the east end a small apse with an altar on it.
The picture above shows the curved theatre-like seating in the nave, and the peppermill pulpit, tall enough for people in the gallery to the see the preacher. In 1880 the choir and chancel were added to the design of G E Street. It was shorter than the present chancel but contained some of the present choir stalls.
To mark the centenary of Bishop Seabury’s Consecration a new east window was erected containing the arms of Seabury and his consecrators. The present pews were installed in 1909 after removal of the galleries and the following year a carved screen was erected at the entrance to the choir as a memorial to Dean Danson. The Porch was added in 1911.
Saint Andrew’s became the Cathedral Church of the Diocese in 1914 when the bishop decided that this was where he would have his ‘cathedra’, his chair.
In the 1920s plans were drawn up for a new Cathedral on Broad Street opposite the Marischal College. Sir Ninian Comper, whose father had been an Episcopal priest in Aberdeen, was to be the architect. The opening of the new cathedral would have coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury.
It was to be the American Church’s memorial and thanksgiving for this important event in its history. In 1929 the Bishop and Provost crossed the Atlantic to help raise funds for this ambitious project, with Comper’s grand design. The project could not be realised as the efforts of the joint team was to be greeted with news of the Wall Street Crash. Instead of a new Cathedral, it was decided to extend and beautify the existing church. This began in 1935 with the decoration of the ceilings of the north and south aisles with the crests of the American States, and the heraldic blazonry of the estates of the Jacobite families of the North East who had supported the Risings. Work began on the extension to the east end in 1938 but was not completed until after the war. The father of President JF Kennedy, who was American Ambassador to the Court of St James, laid the Foundation stone. The Seabury memorial was dedicated in 1948.
IN THE PRESENT DAY
As a Cathedral, this church has a double role. Firstly it is the mother Church of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney. Here on great occasions church people from all over the North East of Scotland and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland come together. The Cathedral must therefore provide a focal point for scattered rural and island congregations: its standards of worship and music must uplift and encourage others.
In addition to being a Cathedral, this building is the House of God to which ordinary people come week by week to offer their worship, to say their prayers and to receive the Sacraments. Comper’s Greek high altar with its impressive baldachin offers a focal point for this.
The congregation of this Church is a community of Christian people, similar to those found in any other church. In additions to the main services held on Sundays, there are a number of services during the week. The Cathedral Hall is also used regularly by groups of members and organizations which cater for different sections of the congregation.
The Cathedral is also playing a part in bringing new life back into the inner city. Its association with Peacock Printmakers has resulted both in the old halls being developed as workshops and galleries, and in the building of new premises, the John Skinner Centre, which is more suitable to the present day needs of the congregation, and the development of the surrounding ‘Seabury Court’ won a much coveted award from the Aberdeen Civic Society.
Each year, an increasing number of visitors from all parts of the world find their way into the Cathedral and the galleries and workshops of Peacock. It is important to us that our buildings are seen as being more than museums of the ecclesiastical past. To this end we welcome the use of the premises as a venue for exhibitions, recitals and festivals.