St Mary Magdalene’s RC Church was built in 1958, designed by Peter Whiston of Edinburgh with very interesting windows by William Wilson and a crucifix by Benno Schotz.
It appears that whoever commissioned the notable building’s design team in the late 1950s knew what they were doing. Heading up the creative trinity was Edinburgh architect Peter Whiston, 1912-1999, who designed new churches across post-war Scotland for over 30 years, including East Lothian’s Cistercian monastery, our nation’s first new monastery since the Reformation.
Also on board to create a striking crucifix was Glasgow-based sculptor Benno Schotz, 1891 –1984, a German-born Jewish immigrant and Glasgow School of Art department head made Scotland’s Sculptor in Ordinary in 1963.
William Wilson, meanwhile, initially specialised in engraving then print making, but in 1937 refocused his attention to become the leading exponent of contemporary stained glass in the UK. Sadly, his career was cut short soon after by the onset of diabetes-related blindness, although he continued to teach during the 1960s, with his output from the 1940s and ’50s considered a legacy.
Among Wilson’s key works are a World War II memorial window at St Andrews University’s Chapel of St Salvator, unveiled by the Queen in 1950, and the Black Watch Memorial Window in Perth’s St John’s Kirk, unveiled by the late Queen Mother in 1955.
The late Monsignor Charles Hendry was a 26-year-old assistant priest at St John’s when the modernistic Craigie church was being built in 1958.
“I actually met William Wilson,” said Mgr Hendry, “but it was very much on someone else’s coat tails – I met him with the architect (Peter Whiston). “It was quite an honour as I’d heard all about him and I knew he’d done the Black Watch window in the Kirk.”
He said many of the windows facing Craigie Place had been damaged by vandals, but post-restoration by the stained glass lecturer and his assistant George Fettes are glorious once more and shielded from harm by Perspex.
“They look absolutely lovely, just like they did five decades ago, and on a sunny day the reflections on the wall are beautiful, really breath-taking,” he said.
“Our congregation members are very proud of them, of course, but I don’t think many realised that they were the work of an artist of such considerable merit.”
Perth College lecturer, Allan Lewis (58), was responsible for the painstaking restoration of the windows after a spate of vandalism. He said, “the 44 two feet square windows flanking two sides of the Craigie kirk, finished in 1959 only four years after commission, were equally divine.”
“You can see that the glass is all handmade and every aspect is top-notch quality, so for me to have the opportunity to restore them to their former glory, well, I’m ecstatically chuffed, it was like working on a Picasso,” he said.
“On the strength of these windows alone this church should be a listed building.”