Trinity College Church was founded in 1460, and stood in the village of Calton, just outside the boundaries of the old city of Edinburgh.
Calton nestled in the valley between the Royal Mile and Calton Hill - the site today is occupied by Waverley Station, and it's hard to imagine that a large settlement once existed in this area.
As the railway station needed to grow to accommodate the increased traffic of visitors and businessmen drawn to the city in the 1840s, and in a not-so-rare act of cultural annihilation, it was decided that the village of Calton would be demolished to create space for the new, improved railway station. At one time the city's botanical garden had been located in the valley where Calton sat, before itself moving further out to town (and later again to its current site at Inverleith).
As the church at the centre of Calton was a historically significant structure, established by Mary of Gueldres, wife of King James II, the city council was paid £16,000 by the North British Railway Company (who operated the main lines into the station) to handle the church's preservation. The decorative altarpieces from the church, a series of panels painted by Flemish artist Hugo van de Goes, were remarkable for surviving the Reformation in 1560, and were removed from the church before its demolition. Today the four panels can be seen in the National Galleries of Scotland.
And so in 1848 the church was deconstructed, the stones dismantled and individually numbered - the plan was to reconstruct the church a little later in another location. And so one of the city's biggest jigsaw puzzles came to be!
The stones of Trinity College Church were stacked at the side of the valley during the construction of the new station, and that's where the church remained for the next twenty years. In the 1870s, when they eventually decided to reconstruct the historic church, they discovered - quel surprise - not all the original stonework was where it had been left. In the intervening decades, it is thought that significant quantities of the stone had been 'borrowed' and used in the construction of myriad other buildings.
And so, when they came to reconstruct the church on Chalmers Close, behind the modern Jury's Inn Hotel, the builders only had enough stone to construct a truncated version of the original church.
Today Trinity Apse, as it is known, still stands on the lane between Jeffrey Street and the Royal Mile, and formerly was used as the city's brass rubbing centre. Visitors passing the building can appreciate the strange, foreshortened dimensions of the church, and close examination shows the numbers on some of the stones, a leftover from the original deconstruction project.
See Trinity Apse and other highlights of the Old Town with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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