View Full Version : Archived: Brides of Christ … Aberdeen, Feb ‘09

07-03-2009, 09:56 PM
The chapel of this convent, built in 1892, is one of the earliest buildings designed by Ninian Comper, one of the major church architects of the twentieth century. With the exception of the Welsh War Memorial in Cardiff, all of Comper's work was ecclesiastical. His first building was a chapel added to his father's church in Aberdeen's Gallowgate in 1889: it was followed two years later by this new convent chapel – which, along with one bay of the convent itself, were the only completed parts of a much bigger scheme planned by Comper.




The buttressed end of the chapel's apse gives no hint of the richness of the interior: in fact, the furnishings, fittings and windows were all designed by Comper, and made in his workshop. He believed a church exists "as a roof over an altar", so he built from the altar outwards, designing every detail, even down to the candle sticks. He anticipated the changes that were to come in ecclesiastical fashion, such as the use of free-standing altars, of pure white interiors, strong clear colours –especially his typical colour-scheme of rose and green. The chapel is little altered from new, although the oak panelling over the stalls was fitted after the Second World War.




Over the course of seventy years, Comper was responsible for designing fifteen complete churches, and he restored and decorated dozens of others, but he received mixed reviews from the critics. Nikolas Pevsner didn't like his architecture (too ornate for Pevsner's austere tastes), but the poet and church buff John Betjeman was a fan, and particularly liked his St Mary's Church in Wellingborough. This convent and chapel were followed years later by major churches at St Margaret's Braemar and St Mary's Kirriemuir; also a new altar and reredos at Old Deer, Aberdeenshire. He later remodelled St Andrews Cathedral in Aberdeen, following his Scots Gothic-style scheme for a completely new, American-financed Seabury Cathedral, which was scrapped in the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (sounds familiar …)




Comper built no completely new churches after the Second World War, but was knighted in 1950, and one of his last works was the great window in Westminster Hall in London in 1952. He died in December 1960, and fittingly his ashes were buried beneath the same window … Today, he is recognised by a "yellow plaque" bolted onto the wall of the convent chapel, which the city council uses to mark things of cultural interest. Inside, the place has a strange feel – the air was fusty despite broken windows, and the power is still on. The convent part is very Spartan, with many rooms split down the middle with timber screens to create tiny “cells”. A scheme to convert it into flats for a local housing association was thrown out a couple of years ago, but it’s likely to fall into the clutches of developers before long.