Posted by: christinelaennec | April 10, 2012

The Tartan Kirkie

Some time ago, I promised a post devoted to St. Mary’s Episcopal church on Carden Place, known as “the Tartan Kirkie” (the small tartan church – Aberdonians love to add -ie to words as an affectionate diminutive).  The reason it’s known as the Tartan Kirkie is because the building uses several kinds of granite very decoratively, giving a kind of “tartan” effect to the fabric of the building.

Side view of the Tartan Kirk, Carden Place, Aberdeen.

It was built in 1865, designed by Alexander Ellis.  (See this page by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland for more technical information.)

St. Mary's Episcopal church (aka the Tartan Kirkie) in the snow. Aberdeen.

In 2010, Grampian Police held an online exhibition of police photographs taken after German bombing raids on Aberdeen during WWII.  It was grim and fascinating to look at the photographs of familiar streets with huge bites taken out of them.  I was startled to see a photo of the Tartan Kirkie with the entire back of the sanctuary torn off and lying open and exposed to the elements.  I had never noticed before that that section is far from tartan because it was rebuilt after the War:

Back section of St. Mary's Episcopal church, rebuilt after WWII bombing.

I’ve never been to a service at St. Mary’s, but I once went there to walk the labyrinth. They had laid out a very large floorcloth that reproduces the pattern of the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres cathedral, and anyone was welcome to come.  I didn’t know if I would find walking the labyrinth tedious, or significant, or neither.  But I found it fascinating:  once I had begun I could no longer see the pattern of the labyrinth.  Try as I might, I could only concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.  I took that lesson away with me:  all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and I’ll get there eventually.  I don’t need to understand how it all connects up, or what the pattern is.  Or where “there” is for that matter!



  1. what an incredibly beautiful church. i have always wanted to walk a labyrinth but have never had the chance. i like your thoughts about how life is sometimes; we can’t always see what is around the corner but it’s good to keep going and to trust that it will all work out.

    i was curious about what style of architecture this was and found a good write up on .

  2. Just goes to demonsrtate Australia’s Scottish heritage – particularly in language – a lot of our ancestors must have come from Aberdeen….Aussies love adding ie to everything as well “Hey matie coming to the footie are you lovie” !!!!!

  3. This is a gorgeous church. I really love the ‘tartan’ stone and the beautiful round windows. I had no idea that even Scotland was bombed during the war. I need to read up on my history. I love your analogy of walking the labrinth and how it translates into a good philosophy to follow in day to day life. Beautiful photos and beautiful insight. xx

  4. What a lovely piece of architecture, and how wonderful for Aberdeen, to have it’s Tartan Kirkie.

  5. All that time in Aberdeen and I’ve never seen this church.
    I’m glad you took strength from walking the labyrinth. My experience of walking the one in George Square gardens in Edinburgh was rather fraught. I’ll tell you about it next time we meet – you might find it amusing!

  6. Dear all,

    Just realised I never replied to your Tartan Kirkie comments! Thank you for leaving them.

    ajb, thanks for the link. That is a good article.

    Eleanor, how interesting about the Aussie ‘-ie’! Do they use the glottal stop as well? ‘ma-ie’ (matie) and ‘foo-ie’ (footie)?

    Karen, yes Aberdeen was bombed a few times during the war. I remember seeing a cover of a German newspaper recounting their blitz on Aberdeen in April 1943. My elderly neighbour used to point out to me the places in our former neighbourhood where the bombs had fallen, and she remembered how many people had lost their lives in particular houses… I wrote a poem based on her reminiscences, “All Clear in Aberdeen,” which you can find on my Poems page if you’re interested.

    Martin, it is beautiful and deserves more appreciation.

    Linda, that offer is too good to turn down! I will be in touch about a “weird bloggy people” get-together when I’m next going to be in Our Nation’s Capital.

    And yes, the labyrinth lesson is a good one!

  7. The photo in the snow is lovely. Your reflections of your experience with the labyrinth are inspired (and inspiring!). And how timely, too.

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