Through a darkened window at Oldhamstocks

Dr DJ Johnston-Smith

Director, Scotland’s Churches Trust

One of the many sad things when confronted by a locked church is often the sight of dark, shadowy stained-glass windows on the outside of the building. Each one offers the merest tantalising glimpse of the colour and bright vision that its artist intended visitors inside the building should see.

Last week our wonderful church recording volunteers were in Oldhamstocks and saw the lovely stained glass inside this small rural East Lothian church.  

The 20th century window inserted into the 16th century burial aisle at Oldhamstocks, East Lothian.

September 2022

The kirk’s 16th century burial aisle was “restored” in 1928 and this window by James Ballantine, (third generation of the famous Balantine family of stained glass artists of “Ballantine & Son” and “Ballantine and Gardner”, and its tracery was inserted into the aisle’s eastern gable wall.

It depicts “The Ascension” with Christ shown in its centre surrounded by shimmering rays of golden light emanating out toward the walls.

Beneath Christ are the figures of Mary, John and the Apostles “in a traditional medieval manner and here the draperies are arranged in interesting shapes of deep-toned colours” each (according contemporary The Scotsman article describing its unveiling) “in harmony with this ancient part of the church”.

Almost camouflaged within the tracery above are the emblems of the “Lamb and Banner”, the “Descending Dove” and “the Pelican”.

These traditional Christian motifs are also repeated elsewhere in the building, most notably on the nearby oak pulpit gifted to the church in 1935 by a Miss Mitchell in memory of her father the Rev Thomas Mitchell who was parish minister from 1843 to 1875.

“A pulpit gifted by Miss Mitchell…was dedicated in Oldhamstocks Church on Sunday. The pulpit, which is a handsome one of Scots oak, has carvings in each of the fife panels symbolic of many of the great doctrines of the Christian faith.”

The Scotsman, 30 Apr 1935

Though much of the current kirk dates to the early 1700s, there has reputedly been a church on this site since early medieval times.

The post-Reformation burial aisle was possibly created in the late 16th century by rebuilding and repurposing an earlier chancel, which was then, in turn, itself retained during the early 18th century rebuilding of the bulk of the church building.

Fragments of the earlier church(es) at Oldhamstocks can be found here and there across the building. The scooped stones at the foot of the window (see a picture in the sliding image deck above) are very suggestive of “sedilia” found in other medieval churches, for the use of officiating priests and their assistants to rest during mass.

As this tiny East Lothian kirk shows, there’s ALWAYS an interesting story to be found behind those darkened windows in churches all across the country…