The Church Building
by Bruce Jamieson
The church is Byzantine in style, in the form of a Greek cross, surmounted by a semi-glazed dome which lets in light to the whole church. The local paper commented at the church's opening in 1928 on the strangeness of the eastern design and remarked on how odd it was to see a building without any visible side window. Due to the constraints of the rig, the length of the church lies north and south rather than the traditional arrangement with the altar at the east end of the nave.
Note that some items, including in particular the electronic organ, have recently been repositioned; this account will be updated in due course!
The entrance, to the north, is dominated by an arched doorway. The carvings on it were completed by craftsmen from the local firm of A. Hardie and depict the central figure of Christ, his hand in the posture of benediction (blessing), flanked by supporting angels. Around the arch are weird figures, perhaps the creatures witnessed in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. Certainly, if you look at the side pillars you will see the four Beasts of the Apocalypse, mentioned in Revelation Chapter 4, verses 7 and 8:
"And the first beast was like a lion and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them wings".
Above the doorway is a thermal window with a tile-arch overhead.
Moving through the entrance door into the church, the neat size of the building is evident. It is only 12 metres long (including the small, semicircular apse) and 7.5 metres wide. The top of the dome is 9 metres above the floor. It has been calculated that you could fit 3750 St. Peter's Linlithgow into its namesake of St. Peter's in Rome.
One of the most prominent architectural features are the Byzantine "sunbursts" of painted slate above the internal archways.
The church now uses a simple, portable font but, on each of the two side walls, it possesses a memorial tablet relating to its own foundation.
The plaque on the west (liturgical south) wall reads:
This Tablet is placed here by his children in loving gratitude for the life Of George Henry Somerset Walpole Bishop of Edinburgh who helped to build this church in memory of Mildred his wife. Easter 1930
The plaque on the east wall reads:
This Church commemorates with gratitude the varied ministry of women in the Family, the Church and the State and was built largely by the help of thank offerings from missions held in England and America during 1925 - 28
Dominating the forward view is the unusual coloured glass, triple window. It was created by Miss Howson, daughter of the Archdeacon of Warrington, and depicts the work of women in the Church, featuring two of the most famous examples.
On the left is St. Margaret. She was born in Hungary around the year 1045 and brought to England in 1057. As the granddaughter of the English king, Edmund Ironside, she had to flee from the hostile King William the Conqueror. She found refuge in Scotland and there, in 1070, married King Malcolm III (Canmore). She brought up her six sons and 2 daughters admirably, according to Anglo-Norman institutions and manners, and imposed on Scotland her own deeply religious views of worship.
True to her nature, Margaret is shown in the painted glass caring for an orphan child. She had given him a loaf of bread, a home-spun smock and some rather unusually coloured shoes! Beside her is her spinning wheel and in the background is her royal castle of Edinburgh wherein she built the still existing St. Margaret's Chapel. She died in 1093 and was canonised in 1250. Her saint's day is 16 November and on that date in 1993 a historical depiction of St Margaret's life was staged in the church.
On the right is St. Mildred, one of a family of four female saints. She was born around the year 700, a daughter of Merewald, a Mercian ruler on the Welsh border. After an education at the Abbey of Chelles in France (where she refused an offer of marriage!) she returned to enter the convent of Minster in Thanet which her mother, St. Ermenburga, had founded. This abbey may be the one depicted in the window. Mildred became the abbess of Thanet and devoted herself to prayer and healing, earning herself the title: "a comforter to all in affliction". This explains the appearance of the lectern and the "snake" of healing in the glass panel. In her nun's habit, her one concession to luxury seems to be yet another pair of brightly-coloured shoes!
Between the two female saints is the figure of the crucified Christ, attended by angels and surmounted by a vision of "New Jerusalem". Above him are the letters INRI which are the initials of the Latin words for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews".
In front of the triple window is the church altar. It will be draped with an altar frontal, the colour of which reflects the particular period of the Liturgical Kalendar.
Those saints who gave their lives for the faith are celebrated with a red frontal. This colour is also used during commemorations of the Holy Spirit (for example, Pentecost) and on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
A white/gold frontal is used for major feasts such as Easter, Christmas or the Ascension. It can also be used to commemorate a saint's day unless that saint was martyred.
- A violet frontal denotes a penitential season such as Advent or Lent. It will also be used for a Requiem Mass.
- A green frontal on the altar is used for all the other, ordinary days of the Kalendar.
Several items nearby are worthy of note, all being recent donations to the church. To the left of the altar is a curtained aumbry designed to hold the Reserved Sacrament. Above the altar is the sanctuary lamp which is kept burning as long as the Reserved Sacrament of bread and wine is present.
Behind the relatively modern, electric organ is an ikon, purchased in Cyprus, depicting St Peter and St Paul exchanging the kiss of peace.
Also hanging on the south wall is a portrait of an angel, painted in the style of Michaelangelo.
On the little stands to either side of the sanctuary are small statues of the Virgin and child (pictured elsewhere on this website) and of St. Peter complete with his "Key to the Kingdom".
The new building work behind the altar has allowed St Peter's to make itself much more welcoming to visitors, being particularly designed to allow full access for the physically disabled, notwithstanding the steep slope on which the church is built. It was a significant success on the part of the architect that this work was achieved without prejudicing the ability of sunlight to illumine the triple window behind the altar: that glory continues into the future.
Behind the church, to the south, is the back rig. This is the traditional "toft" of land which went with the original property. All the Linlithgow High Street houses had such a strip of land and these gave the town its Medieval 'herring-bone' pattern. St. Peter's rig was once much longer but it was dissected by the railway in 1842 and then, more recently, another portion was sold off for house-building purposes.
Placed in the back garden are three large wooden benches which once graced Linlithgow Railway Station.
As you leave St. Peter's, Linlithgow it is worth remembering that it is not just another building. It is the ongoing, spiritual base of an active and ever-developing congregation whose work and witness in the town and in the diocese is still in progress.
Why not come and join us?