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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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7 Robert Mylne and the First Baroque Mural Monument in Greyfriars Kirkyard, 1675 (Cristina González-Longo)


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7 Robert Mylne and the First Baroque Mural Monument in Greyfriars Kirkyard, 1675


The small sepulchral monument (dated 1675) to Alexander Bethune of Long Hermiston (d. 1672), Writer to the Signet, by Robert Mylne of Balfargie, was the first to display an elaborated mixture of pagan and Christian symbolism and iconography within a well-designed architecture of classical language. Commissioned by the widow, Marjory Kennedy, it clearly departs from the strapwork decoration displayed in the older tombs flanking it on the east wall of Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. It not only created the precedent for subsequent, larger monuments in Greyfriars, but it also influenced the design of the main entrance to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the most prestigious architectural project during the 1670s in Scotland. Bethune’s monument was subsequently reused for burials by the Spens family during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with the inscriptions modified in accordance. This paper analyses the monument in its context, discussing its architecture and influence.

The Tomb and Its Context: Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh in Late Seventeenth Century

Reformed Scots’ attitude towards death is particular; despite the repression of the majority of the burial rites, not all Catholic practices were to be dismissed. The deceased were considered less important and no longer to be in a state of transition, as before the Reformation. Taking also into account the expected resurrection, burials became rites of temporary separation.1 ← 147...

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