The two Cathedrals in Oban
St John’s Cathedral, part of The Scottish Episcopal Church – or the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine (Scottish Gaelic Ard-eaglais Eòin an Diadhair) is a cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It is one of the two cathedrals of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, and one of the sees of the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. Aye, Oban is a town with TWO cathedrals. The MacDougalls of Dunollie and their co consiritors the Campbells of Dunstaffnage began the project to build an episcopal church in Oban in 1846. The first church was completed in 1864 and as the town grew, so the church developed. Funds ran out before construction finished – thus we are left with a unique cathedral (designated as such in 1920) steel girders supporting the incomplete grand structure. Historic wee note; In 1878 the Scottish Hierarchy was restored. Bishop Angus MacDonald, the first Bishop of the Diocese, organised the building of the first Cathedral in Oban. Made out of corrugated iron, it was supposed to last a short while. In fact, it stood for over 50 years. 1932 Bishop Donald Martin began the building of a new Cathedral for the Diocese of Argyll and the isles. He raised much of the money in America, Canada, and Ireland. Stained glass windows depicting the three Archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel were commissioned by the Marquis of Bute for the Cathedral at Oban. These can now be seen in St Patrick’s Church, Mallaig.
The other is St Columba’s Cathedral designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. He designed the Anglican Cathedral at Liverpool (which is huge) and the famous red telephone box. The Cathedral is in the neo-Gothic style and pink and blue granite are the materials used throughout making the Cathedral a tangible symbol of the sturdiness of the tradition of the faith of the people of the west highlands and islands of Scotland. St. Columba’s Cathedral stands on the edge of Oban Bay looking west across the Firth of Lorne to Iona and beyond, across the Atlantic to North America and Canada. Built between 1932 and 1958, St Columba’s Cathedral is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. RC Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. St Columba’s is by far the nicest setting, being on the Esplanade, this is the one I would attend when in Oban – Paul.
In the Middle Ages the cathedral of the diocese of Argyll was north of Oban on the island of Lismore. Dedicated to St Moluag, Lismore Cathedral is now a Church of Scotland parish church. Saint Moluag (Old Irish Mo-Luóc – d. 592), founded a monastery on the island. It was a major centre of Christianity in Scotland, and the seat of the later medieval bishopric of Argyll or the Isles. Lismore was ideally situated. The Diocese of Argyll was Scotland’s most impoverished diocese, and the fourteenth century Cathedral was very modest in scale. Only the choir survives, in greatly altered form, the nave and western tower having been reduced to their foundations. The chief surviving medieval features are three doorways, one blocked, another originally the entrance through the pulpitum, a piscina and the triple-arched sedilia. Several medieval grave slabs are preserved in the church. The building is in use as the parish church of Lismore, a congregation of the Church of Scotland. It is linked with Appin Parish Church on the mainland. The minister is Rev Roderick D. M. Campbell, formerly of St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh; too many Campbells about for me.
Another wee historic story – Carnasserie Castle a mile north of Kilmartin. The castle was built 1565 and 1572 for Bishop John Carswell. You may well ask, “why is a Bishop building a castle?” They were fighting Bishops! Get a hold of the musket and pistol holes – a deterrent to unwanted visitors; not very holy. Above the doorway is a panel showing Bishop Carswell’s wealth, the Bishop’s patron by the way, the 5th Earl of Argyll (Campbell). John Carswell was a local, born in Kilmartin in the 1500s. After the Reformation of 1560 he was Superintendent of Argyll for the Reformed Church. He became Bishop of the Isles in 1567, by then a very wealthy man. In 1565 he embarked on the building of Carnasserie Castle as his main residence in Argyll, and as a place in which he could entertain his patron, Archibald, 5th Earl of Argyll whom we have mentioned already. Carswell published a Gaelic language translation of the Book of Common Order, also known as “John Knox’s Liturgy” after its original author, everything the Protestant religion in the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland needed. It was the first book ever to be printed in Gaelic. Carnasserie remained property of the Dukes of Argyll, as we have seen, in 1685 it was attacked and burned by forces loyal to King James VII during an uprising against him by the 9th Earl of Argyll. Justice.