Statement of Special Interest
Age and Rarity
St Bride's was built as a parish church for the village of Douglas and the choir dates from the late 13th century or early 14th century. Romanesque architectural fragments displayed in the building and in the surviving south aisle indicate an earlier 12th century church on the site. The church is dedicated to St Bride (Bridget) who was the patron saint of the Black Douglases and it is closely associated with the Douglas family.
Archibald 'the Grim', 3rd earl of Douglas, modified the church as a resting-place for his father, Sir James of Douglas, who died in 1330. From then, the choir became the mausoleum of the Black Douglas earls. Sir James' tomb is the earliest of three elaborate canopied tombs of 14th and 15th century date. The third tomb is that of James 'the Gross', 7th Earl of Douglas and his wife Beatrice Sinclair. This is a rare double effigy, with the earl in armour and his wife in a flowing robe.
St Bride's fell into disrepair following the suppression of the Black Douglases by James II in 1455, however it continued to function as a parish church. The church, or at least the choir, continued in use for worship until 1781, when a new parish church was built elsewhere and the congregation moved.
A century later, the choir was rebuilt, re-roofed and re-glazed around 1878-1881 by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson. He undertook the work for Charles Douglas, 12th Earl of Home, to provide a suitable shrine for the earl's mother, Lady Lucy Montagu Douglas. Her tomb is situated at the centre of the choir.
Small, simple rural parish churches are common in Scotland. However, medieval churches are rare, and very few have survived in their early form. Most medieval churches were either replaced by newer churches on different sites and subsequently became ruinous, or were significantly altered to provide more accommodation.
St Bride's Chapel, the choir of St Brides Church, was built in the late 13th century or early 14th century and continued in use until 1782. It was rebuilt in the late 19th century, but still contains a sequence of very important and elaborately carved medieval tombs. The reconstructed fabric, such as the external corbels carved as masks to the north and south eaves, the ribbed wooden tunnel vault ceiling and decorative encaustic tiles to the floors (that replaced stone flags) is interesting in its own right as the work of one of Scotland's leading architects. These features combine to make the age and rarity of St Bride's highly significant in listing terms.
In the churchyard, the 19th century gravestones are typical examples of their type, and are accompanied by a small number of earlier stones. They complement the choir and contribute to the interest of this ecclesiastical site.
The churchyard boundaries are formed by low walls with coping stones and iron railings, with simple gatepiers with pyramidal caps at the east entrance. These walls and gatepiers are not considered to be of special interest in listing terms.
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior of St Bride's has significant interest, particularly for the medieval carved stone effigies and decorative features it houses (see below Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality). Many of the windows contain early 20th century stained glass and there are fragments of 13th century glass formerly at Canterbury (Buildings of Scotland, p268). The earlier fragments are located in windows to the east of the south wall of the choir. There are two, one large of 3 lights and one small of 2. Beneath the floor, the Douglas Vault gives additional architectural and historic interest. Several Douglasses who died during the 17th century were interred here. It is understood others from the 18th and 19th centuries were transferred here after renovation of the new Parish Church in 1880.
The plan form of the choir at St Bride's is rectangular, which is typical for a small, rural, pre-Reformation parish church.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
The effigies and funerary monuments within the choir at St Bride's are rare surviving examples of their type and have exceptional design quality. They represent one of the most important collections of later medieval sepulchral sculpture in Scotland and can be compared with those at St Mary's, Bute (SM90253) and Inchmahome priory (SM90169). The Buildings of Scotland notes that the monuments 'provided the justification for the Victorian restoration of the chancel, which reaffirms its importance in the history of the Douglas (and late Douglas-Home) family' (Buildings of Scotland, p268). The restoration by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson preserves the character of the medieval building.
The church can be compared with other proprietorial churches of the same period, in particular Lincluden Collegiate Church (SM90200) and Bothwell Collegiate Church (LB5134), both founded by Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas, and both retaining fine medieval choirs.
Sir Robert Rowand Anderson was born in 1834 in Edinburgh and set up his own practice in the early 1860s. He quickly became known for school buildings and church restorations, among them Paisley Abbey, Dunblane Cathedral, Dunfermline Abbey Church, and Bothwell Collegiate Church. He also designed major public buildings such as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and McEwan Hall in Edinburgh. He became Scotland's leading architect at the close of the 19th century. A G Sydney Mitchell and Sir Robert Lorimer began their careers under his influence.
St Bride's is situated on a slightly elevated site in the village of Douglas. There are rural views out to the north and west. On the south side, several 19th century houses face the chapel and churchyard, and the early 18th century former Episcopal church stands next to the churchyard to the west.
The site of Douglas Castle, one of the Douglas family's strongholds from as early as 1288, is about 1km to the northeast (see Canmore ID 46528) and a stone tower remains (see LB1449).
St Bride's is located within the Douglas Conservation Area.
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
The site is associated with Sir James Douglas, who died in 1330 on the way to the Holy Land carrying the embalmed heart of King Robert I.
'The Good Sir' James of Douglas was close a close ally and friend of Robert the Bruce. He is believed to have attacked and killed English troops inside the church in 1307 (or 1308), part of an episode that is known as 'the Douglas Larder'. Thanks to James's alignment with Bruce, and his role as one of the chief Scottish commanders during the Wars of Independence, the Black Douglases rose to become one of Scotland's most powerful noble families of the day.
Statement of Special Interest
St Bride's Chapel, the choir of St Brides Church, was built in the late 13th century or early 14th century. It was restored in the late 19th century, but retains its medieval character and is a rare example of a medieval church choir. It still contains an outstanding sequence of rare and elaborately carved medieval tombs, and early stained glass, enhancing its interest in listing terms. The choir is the burial place of Sir James of Douglas and other members of the Douglas family, one of the most powerful forces in medieval Scotland.