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Cult, Church, City: the New Exhibition

Oak figure of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, On loan courtesy of National Museums Scotland, ©National Museums Scotland

The cult of a saint
The power of the Church.
A city defined by them both.

Cult, Church, City: Medieval St Andrews, a new exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum, brings together medieval artefacts from St Andrews and the rest of the UK to explore the town in the Middle Ages.

Despite its size and location, St Andrews has never been a backwater. In fact during the medieval period it was quite the opposite; a bustling trading port, a centre of spiritual government, a pilgrimage site for the veneration of Scotland’s patron saint, and an ancient seat of learning. It was also visually stunning, as demonstrated by the collection of objects on display, brought together from collections across the country for the first time in 500 years.

The exhibition invites you into a mysterious world, with beliefs, priorities, worldviews and ways of living very different to those we experience today. It also invites you to walk the streets of the town and see the sites; many of the places referenced in the displays today lay in ruins, while some, such as the tolbooth that used to stand on Market Street, have gone altogether. Digital reconstructions from the medieval period, based on detailed research carried out at the University of St Andrews, show the splendour of the cathedral as it was, the long gone cloisters of St Salvator’s College and more besides.

The exhibition is the work of Professor Michael Brown and Dr Bess Rhodes, world experts in the town during this period, and is a collaborative partnership between the Museums of the University of St Andrews, the Schools of History and Computer Science, the St Andrews Institute of Medieval Studies, and the Institute of Scottish Historical Research. It is based on the book Medieval St Andrews: Church, Cult, City (2017); edited by Michael Brown, along with Professor Katie Stevenson, Vice Principal of Collections at the University of St Andrews.  The book will be available in the Wardlaw Museum Shop along with a new publication created specially for the exhibition, Voices of the Past by Bess Rhodes and Michael Brown, which delves deeper into the stories told by the objects on display.

The exhibition takes visitors through four sections, each exploring a different aspect of the town and each with their own objects to uncover. Cult investigates Saint Andrew and his devotees, who travelled from all over the British Isles and further afield to pay their respects to his relics. Church uncovers the now almost unimaginable power of the bishops and archbishops that sat in St Andrews and shows some stunning artefacts, including a brightly coloured causable, or priest’s robe, on loan from the V&A Museum in London. Burgh – defined as an autonomous region, often a town with a degree of self-governance – explores how St Andrews governed itself, and its relationship with the surrounding areas. Finally, in Reformation, uncover how the town changed as a result of the religious turmoil that marked the end of the medieval period.

John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland, on loan courtesy of the British Library, ©The British Library

Alongside the exhibition is John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland, which is on loan from the British Library with the support of the Helen Hamlyn Trust. This rare document is the first detailed map of Scotland, created by the English spy John Hardyng in the 1450s. The map was created in a failed attempt to encourage the English king to claim sovereignty over Scotland, with the ultimate intention of conquest.

Along with the exhibition comes a varied programme of in-person and online events for all ages, interests and levels of knowledge. Take a mini-pilgrimage with expert Dr Ian Bradley, explore how the town has changed on an evening walk with Dr Bess Rhodes, discuss religious division as part of our online Critical Conversations or catch John Hardyng before he takes his secrets to England in our SpyCatcher medieval escape room experience. To find out about the events on offer take a look at our website.

Cult, Church, City: Medieval St Andrews and Treasures on Tour: John Hardyng’s Map of Scotland are both on at the Wardlaw Museum until 3 July 2022. Entry is free.

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 11am – 7 pm,  Weekends, 10am – 5pm

Wardlaw Museum, 7 The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AR