< 9 / 28 >
About this picture Hide

St. Nicholas Kirk Dig /


In 2006 the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting began to excavate the east end of the building as part of the Mither Kirk Project. It became one of the most significant archaeological digs in Britain and revealed the macabre history beneath the church. 


Outside, in the graveyard of St. Nicholas Kirk, skeletons, hourglasses and dead-bells adorn the gravestones. Inside the building, in the recesses of the dig, latticed femurs, fibulars and temporals poke from the soil. Human bone is a strong building material, when the first walls were built, if graves were disturbed beneath, the bodies were packed into the foundations of the church. Unlike an ossuary, where bones are displayed in crypts and altars, these skeletal remains fulfilled a far more practical use. 


In addition to the building foundations there are over 2000 burials at the site, and scientists have extracted collagen to map their ages and illnesses. Bones beneath the sacristy reflect diseases common at the time of death; scoliosis, prostate cancer, ulceration, syphilis (which leaves characteristic lesions on the bone), and badly-healed fractures. One skull was devoid of a nasal cartilage; its top jaw was also badly damaged. Another died in childbirth, with the baby’s head engaged and ready for birth. 



St. Mary’s Chapel adjoins the main site and was known as Our Lady of Pity before the reformation. It was established by nuns who meditated on the mental anguish of Mary beneath the pietà on a stained glass window. It was later used as a prison. In the 1600s women were chained to an iron witches’ ring, and outside crowds of people stared in, mocking those awaiting their fate. A gargoyle of a woman with a scold’s bridle stares down from the corbal. One gravestone in this chapel contains the engraving ‘Death, the best of blessings.’


This project was a collaboration with writer Adelle Stripe who explored the city with me and created the stories and histories that sit alongside the thirteen main images from the exhibition. Secret Cities Aberdeen was part of the SPECTRA Festival of Light 2017 in Aberdeen and commissioned by Curated Place. 

< Back to  Secret Cities Aberdeen

Click image to enlarge  >