Elgin Cathedral (also known as "The Lantern of the North") dates back to 1224AD when the Bishopric of Moray was relocated from nearby Spynie to the Church of the Holy Trinity, close to the River Lossie, on the edge of the town of Elgin. Over the course of the next couple of decades, the existing chapter of eight cannons was enlarged to an eventual twenty-three.
Following a fire in 1270AD, work was undertaken to extend the original church. The choir was doubled in length and increased in height, aisles were added to either side, and a chapter house was built. The western towers may also date to this period, but it's also possible that they were built following the dedication in 1224AD. Work was likely complete by 1290AD when the War of Independence began, thus leaving the cathedral largely unchanged for the following century.
In 1390AD, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan (also known as the "Wolf of Badenoch") put both the town and the cathedral to the torch as a result of a feud with the bishop following Alexander's excommunication for infidelity. The damage to the church was extensive, necessitating the rebuilding of both the central tower and chapter house.
The church was again torched and rebuilt in 1402AD, when Alexander Macdonald, Lord of the Isles sacked Elgin. Following this attack, it enjoyed a period of calm until 1506AD when the central tower had to be rebuilt following a collapse. At this time, the tower reached 198ft, and Elgin Cathedral was said to have been the finest in Scotland.
Elgin Cathedral's fell victim to the Reformation in In 1560AD, when the cathedral was abandoned and services were relocated to the local parish church. In 1567AD, the cathedral's roof was stripped of its lead, the bells removed from the western towers, and the buildings began to fall into decay. The church still saw occasional use, but by 1637AD the roof of the choir had collapsed. However the worst damage occurred in 1711AD when the central tower fell, destroying the nave, the north transept and most of the choir.
Following this event, the cathedral became a quarry for local people seeking stone, and a rubbish dump for those seeking to dispose of waste. This continued until 1807AD when an enclosing wall was built to halt the site's decline. Subsequently, work was undertaken to clear the site and stabilise the building, with over 3,000 barrow-loads of rubbish being removed.
Today, Elgin Cathedral offers a rich and diverse set of ruins for the modern visitor to explore. The west front with its two flanking towers survives in remarkably complete form, as does the eastern end of the presbytery with its dominant rose window. The other particularly noteworthy survivor is the chapter house, which is largely intact.
Elgin Cathedral is one of the finest medieval monuments in this part of Scotland, and benefits from a much lower number of visitors than similar sites in England. This is a stunning survivor of an earlier age, and a richly rewarding site to explore.