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Date: 13 March 2000
Our ref: 570

Crown Tower Conference / “King’s College Chapel:  500 year” book launch / Pre-reformation Mass /
The Fools’ Feast / Post-reformation Service / Guided Tours
(Photocall:  11.00am, Tuesday 14 March, King’s College Chapel – full details at end of release))

The weekend of 1-2 April 2000 will be a major date in this year’s calendar, not just for the University of Aberdeen,  but for the whole city.   It marks the Quincentenary of the foundation of the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College Chapel  and this important and historic event will be marked by a range of activities during the weekend.

Professor C Duncan Rice, Principal of the University, said:  “This is a wonderful event and we very much hope that the people of Aberdeen will feel that it is as much their celebration as it is ours and will participate in as many of the events as possible.

“The Chapel is a rare survivor from pre-Reformation Scotland.  It was generously endowed by Bishop Elphinstone, founder of and original fund-raiser for the University of Aberdeen, at the end of the Middle Ages and was spared the worst horrors of subsequent centuries.  It was basically neglected during the Enlightenment, and archaeological sensitivity prevailed even during the reforming of zeal of the Victorian period.”

The celebrations start with the launch of the definitive book on the Chapel, “King’s College Chapel:  500 years”  edited by and contributed to by Dr Jane Geddes of the History of Art Department.  This leads in to the Crown Tower Conference, which draws together experts from the fields of church liturgy, architecture, art, and culture.  The Conference aims to place the Chapel and its survival after the Reformation in the context of similar buildings at home and abroad.

Right Rev. Mario Conti, Bishop of Aberdeen, will lead a Mass, only the second time in the post-Reformation history of the Chapel that a Catholic Mass has been held.  The University Rector, Miss Clarissa Dickson Wright has played a major role in guiding the selection of an appropriate menu for The Fools’ Feast which will bring Saturday’s proceedings to an end.

The Very Reverend, Professor Alan Main, the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and Professor of Practical Theology at this University, will lead the Chapel Foundation Service on Sunday Morning.

According to Dr Jane Geddes, the Chapel is one of the few places of worship in Scotland were visitors can experience the unity of a medieval vision.

Dr Geddes explained:  “In addition to the structure and furnishings, documentary evidence allows a very complete picture to be built up concerning its contents and use.  Bishop Elphinstone’s Aberdeen Breviary, defining a specifically Scottish liturgy, lay at the core of worship in the Chapel.  The music and services provided the ritual for which the elaborate choir stalls were built.”

The book aims to integrate Bishops Elphinstone's heritage:  the liturgy and music, architecture and fittings.  These are a spectacular reminder of the medieval riches lost elsewhere in Scotland.

The survival of the Chapel after the Reformation of 1560 is equally remarkable.  It was used only as a store and occasional meeting room for almost 300 years and the building was maintained by the University even when funds were low.  Its crown tower had become a symbol of the University’s identity and its political allegiance to the King, James IV.  The later fittings reflect the restoration of worship to the chapel in the nineteenth century.

The book highlights a number of important “finds”.  Dr Geddes explained:  “The golden inscription of the west front of the Chapel states that it was begun on 2 April 1500.  A learned cleric, aware of Old Testament exegesis, would associate this day with the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, a symbol of both royal wisdom and supreme sanctity.

“Certain proportions in the Chapel suggest that it was intended to evoke the Temple but it would require a theologian with Elphinstone’s own books to recognise this.  For example, within the Temple, Solomon clad the walls and ceiling with carved woods and Elphinstone sheathed his choir with wooden stalls and ceiling. The creation of this Scottish Holy of Holies was surely devised by Elphinstone who then decided to be buried at its heart, rather than the nearby St Machar’s Cathedral.”

Another important fact outlined in the book is that the University is fortunate to have five large examples of a rare art form used in the sixteenth and seventeenth century to mark great royal and civic events.  These extensive and temporary decorations were often elaborate structures, made of canvas and wood scaffolding.  They ranged from triumphal archways to narrative tableaux and even artificial mountains.

The date and origin of the University’s examples are not known but with their royal themes, they may celebrate the restoration of Charles II in 1660.  Dirty and poorly lit, their significance has only recently been appreciated.  They will be on display at The Fools’ Feast in Elphinstone Hall.

The Mass, which is being celebrated to mark the laying of the foundation stone, begins in the Chapel at 6.00pm and will be an exceptional opportunity to see the chapel function as Bishop Elphinstone intended, with a medieval service.  The service will be celebrated by Bishop Mario Conti:  “I am looking forward very much to celebrating this Mass in an historic place on an historic occasion.

“Every effort is being made to ensure that the service is as authentic as possible in the context of the medieval church.  As a result, there has been a great deal of work done in researching the Mass texts, and even the vestments.

“However, when we talk of authenticity, we must surely also see that in terms of the content of what would otherwise be simply a performance.  What we are doing is what those who attended the first Mass in the college were doing, namely giving thanks to God and calling down upon the University the gift of wisdom, the grace of understanding, the harmony of a community dedicated to the pursuit of learning,  Not only was the Gospel at the heart of that, but also the worship.  One might speak of head and heart.

“Having been brought up with the Latin Mass, and having started my priestly life with it using the missal of Pius V, I am sufficiently familiar to be comfortable with the sarum rite which we are using, and which is very close indeed in all its substantial parts to the rite that became universal following the Council of Trent in the mid sixteenth century.”

Director of University Music, Dr Roger Williams, commented on the music to be played:  “The main part of the music will be chant sung, as far as we can tell, in the authentic manner – not only as a straight chant but also with faburden and in ‘alternatim’ with the organ.

“Examples of contemporary polyphonic music will include a 16th century Gloria from Scotland and a Communion Motet by the 16th century Flemish composer, Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517).  Alternatim arrangements by Thomas Preston and by an anonymous 16th century composer will be played on the organ.

“The Mass will conclude with the singing of the Salve Regina which was ordered by Bishop Elphinstone to be sung in the Chapel every day.”

A special choir will be formed to celebrate the Chapel’s Quincentenary, comprising graduates who sang in the Chapel Choir as students.  They will be under the direction of Professor John Harper, the Director of the Royal School of Church Music.

The culmination of Saturday’s celebrations is “The Fools’ Feast, a medieval banquet on April Fool’s Day, organised by the Aberdeen University Alumnus Association.  The menu has been created with the advice of University Rector, Clarissa Dickson Wright who will also be the after-dinner speaker.

Clarissa Dickson Wright said:  “ The medieval feast was what passed for television before that dire invention.  Give me a Fool’s Feast any day - knocking on the head the misconception that our ancestors had less fun than we do.

“The food traditionally was part of the entertainment.  Whilst we may not have a marzipan battleship firing sugared almonds, we are doing our best to make it authentic!”

Sunday will see The Foundation Service at 11.00am to be followed by lunch and guided tours of St Mary’s Undercroft, Greyfriars, Marischal College and Elphinstone Hall.

Anyone interested in attending any of the events should contact Rachel Charnock, Alumnus Officer, University of Aberdeen, Tel:  01224  272092 or by e-mail:



The Events Celebrating 500 Years of the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College Chapel

You are welcome to send a Reporter and Photographer to all of these events.    Please let Christine Cook know in advance so that arrangements for interviews and photographs can be made:

Contact details:  Christine Cook, Executive Director of Public Relations
Tel:   01224 272014
Fax:  01224 272086

Saturday 1 April, 2000

0930 hours- The Crown Tower Conference, (including launch of “King’s College
1715 hours Chapel:  500 years” ),  – King’s College Conference and Exhibition Centre
This conference aims to place the Chapel and its functions in a European context
Costs:  £42 for a single delegate; £72 for couples making joint bookings; £15 student rate

0930 hours- The Chapel Choir Reunion (Rehearsals), King’s College Chapel
1715 hours
A special choir will be formed to celebrate the Chapel’s Quintentenary, comprising graduates who sang in the Chapel Choir as students.  They will perform at the Saturday Mass and Sunday Service
Photo Opportunities:  You are welcome to send along a reporter/photographer.

1800 hours- The Mass, King’s College Chapel
1900 hours
This will be an exceptional opportunity to see the Chapel function as Bishop Elphinstone intended, with a medieval service, music and vestments.  This service will be celebrated in Latin by Bishop Conti, accompanied by the Choir alumni.
1930 hours The Fools’ Feast, King’s College Conference Centre and Elphinstone Hall
2000 hours
A medieval Banquet on April Fool’s Day, organised by the Aberdeen University Alumnus Association in celebration of the Chapel Quincentenary.
Pre-dinner drinks will be served in the James Mackay Hall, King’s College Conference Centre, followed by the Banquet in Elphinstone Hall.
Entertainment will be provided by The Kincorth Waits and Miss Clarissa Dickson Wright will give the after-banquet speech.  Additional entertainment is being organised for the night.

Dress is formal (or of the period!)

Sunday 2 April, 2000

1100 hours The Foundation Day Service, King’s College Chapel
This celebrates the survival of the Chapel after the Reformation, highlighting music after 1600, sung by the Reunion Chapel alumni. The service will be conducted by the University Chaplain, Rev. Gillean Maclean with the preacher, Professor Alan Main. A special feature of the service will be the blessing of Bishop Elphinstone’s last surviving bell, recently returned to the Chapel after an absence of 234 years.

1215 hours Foundation Day Lunch, Crombie Dining Room

1345 hours Sunday Afternoon Tours

To accompany the launch of “King’s College Chapel: 500 years”, authors of the book will lead guided tours to St Mary’s Undercroft, Greyfriars, Marischal College and Elphinstone Hall.  They will highlight newly discovered aspects of the Chapel, especially its woodwork and paintings.

Further information

University Press Office on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email