Reviving the Trinity Stones: A Treasure Hunt and a Jigsaw Puzzle

By: Jill Harrison, Jean Guild Grant Awardee

Marie of Guelders ca. 1415 Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. Germ Oct 42., Vol. 19v

The two year Reviving the Trinity Stones project will be an exciting combination of a treasure hunt and jigsaw puzzle.. It is enabled by a Jean Guild Grant from the Old Edinburgh Club 

Trinity Collegiate Church from Lower Calton, watercolour by Henry Duguid 1848 – the year the church was demolished.

The Back Story

In 1460 Mary of Guelders built her ambitious charitable foundation of a hospital and the Trinity Collegiate Church  below the Calton Hill on Leith Wynd, the road to the port. It was acknowledged as an architectural gem, the most sophisticated and beautiful building in Edinburgh, a focus for civic pride and an emblem of Scotland’s outward-looking aspirations.

Roll forward to 1848 and the height of Railway Mania. The lovely Trinity Church was demolished to make way for Platform 2 of Waverley Station. Dubbed an act of vandalism by some, Henry Cockburn and John Ruskin among them, and embraced as necessary for progress by others, the stones of the church were numbered and dumped in a large heap near Calton Hill. Here they remained for nearly 30 years while the Council dithered regarding what to do with them.  During that time, the inevitable happened and Edinburgh citizens chose some of the most attractive stones to enhance their gardens and parks. By the time a decision to rebuild the church in its present location behind the Leonardo Hotel on Jeffrey Street, there were a lot less stones.

Today

In 2020 Jill Harrison set up the Trinity Network with the aim of researching the history of the foundation and trying to secure a future of the apse, all that remained of the much- reduced church. The Network continues to thrive and in 2023 Jill was awarded a Jean Guild Grant for her project to identify and catalogue all the stones, now dispersed all over Edinburgh- some are in museums, but many are still in gardens.  There are several in Morningside and Jill has been working with the Morningside Heritage Association who are working hard to preserve and protect their stones. Each stone will be photographed and catalogued and a Stones Trail, an article and a small exhibition will come about over the 2 years.

A humorous head, typical of other examples from the church

In 2024 the project is making real progress. Jill explained how Reviving the Trinity Stones will work at a meeting of the OEC in January and since then she has met her OEC liaison person, Hetty Lancaster and the Vice President, Alison Macdonald to discuss the way forward. It is really exciting that following talks given to the Morningside Heritage Association and to the OEC more new stones have been identified in 3 different locations, and more people have been in touch to express interest and offer help.

On 16th January Hetty, Jill and Alison met John Lawson, the Edinburgh Council archaeologist, Luis Albornoz-Parra, a medieval building stones expert from the British Geological Survey at Heriot Watt University and Dr James Hillson, an architectural historian at the University of Edinburgh at the Museum of Edinburgh to look at their collection of Trinity stones. This enthusiastic group discussed the project and what we might do to learn more about the design and makeup of the stones with a view to better identification. It seems that people are intrigued by the story of the ‘lost stones’ and searching their gardens just in case something exciting lurks in the shrubbery. Each stone has a story to tell and adds to our knowledge of Edinburgh’s changing histories.

Delicate Tracery Fragment, perhaps from above window

You can keep up to date with Jill’s progress on our website, social media or on Trinity Network

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