THE first phase of the restoration of the Gothic apse of St Nicholas Buccleuch Church, Dalkeith, was completed last week with the official unveiling of the newly-repaired Morton Monument.
Earlier this year, the 16th century stone carved effigies of the first Earl of Morton and his wife Princess Joanna, sister of King James II, were carefully lifted by a hoist from the Morton Monument, the tomb contained within the apse where they had lain for almost five centuries.
The reclining figures were removed to a specialist stone conservation workshop where restoration works were undertaken. In addition, a protective canopy has been installed over the tomb to prevent further erosion.
The restored monument was unveiled by the present 21st Earl of Morton, John Douglas, who spoke of the "honour" at being invited to perform the ceremony. "I think this has been a great achievement for all the people concerned in putting this together. It is a great achievement for the people of Dalkeith," he added.
The repair work, costing more than 34,000, marks the first phase of the restoration of the apse with later works to include repairs to the apse walls themselves.
St Nicholas' apse is one of the three earliest remaining examples of a Gothic choir in Scotland, dating from the 15th century. The apse was sealed off after the Reformation of 1560, and subsequently fell into such disrepair that the roof gave way. Since then, the effigies had been exposed to the elements and had suffered damage and erosion to the stonework as a result.
The project to restore the apse is spearheaded by the St Nicholas Apse Trust, a group of local interested individuals who are committed to conserving the building for future generations. The trust's patron is the Earl of Dalkeith. The project is supported by WREN — who administer the Landfill Tax Credits on behalf of Waste Recycling Group — Midlothian Council, Historic Scotland, the Buccleuch Estate, the Dalrymple Donaldson Fund and a number of local businesses.
The restored Morton Monument will now be accessible to the public following the unveiling.
Midlothian Provost and St Nicholas Apse Trust member Sam Campbell said: "The St Nicholas Apse is a really important historic landmark in Dalkeith and it is vital that we do all we can to preserve it for present and future generations. It is very gratifying to see the completion of this first stage in the apse's restoration with the unveiling of the Morton Monument and we can now look forward to the next phase."
Fellow trustee David Smith recalled the history of the apse and effort over the past 40 years to restore the church building as well as the formation of the trust, which commissioned a feasibility study and undertook the fund-raising required.
Historic Scotland's ancient monument officer Nick Bridgland explained the importance of the effigies as their appearance was not of their time, which showed that the Earl was a renaissance man, and the craftsmanship was second to none.
Midlothian Council official Ian Young added that the apse added to the history of the East High Street in Dalkeith which boasted a number of important properties from St Mary's Church at the entrance to Dalkeith Country Park to the Tolbooth building.
The unveiling was carried out following a short prayer and dedication by St Nicholas Buccleuch minister Rev Sandy Horsburgh.