Present History


During the long incumbency of Rev. Patrick Cheyne, a new building off Crown Street, was built to the designs of Mackenzie and Matthews, 1849-51. It was consecrated by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop William Skinner and opened for worship on 6 May 1851. The congregation has worshipped there continuously to the present day. The church is now listed as category B by Historic Scotland.

In 2013 the church became the first in Scotland to invite Muslims to share its building as the adjoining mosque was so small that some were forced to worship outside.

St John’s – Early History

St John’s today can claim descent from the mediaeval burghal church of St Nicholas: in 1693 Dr George Garden, the first Rector of St John’s, was ejected from the second charge of the East Kirk of St Nicholas for refusing to conform to the Presbyterian establishment. Those of his congregation who still adhered to Episcopacy left with him. In 1720, after five years in exile, he returned to Aberdeen and gathered the remnants of his congregation together. This was the real beginning of St John’s Church.

Initially, the little congregation worshipped in a chapel in the Clergyman’s house. However, after the repeal of the Penal Laws in 1792, they prospered and, in 1806 built a church in Golden Square. It was dedicated to St John the Evangelist and was said to be a handsome edifice with a spire. The Rev. Patrick Cheyne was the driving force behind the move to Crown Terrace and the foundation stone of the present beautiful building was laid on 20th November 1849. The church was consecrated and opened for workship by the Primus, Bishop William Skinner, on 6th May 1851.

Two other city churches may be regarded as daughter churches of St John’s. Mr Cheyne’s successor, the Rev. Frederick G Lee left, with his supporters, to form a new congregation and they built St Mary’s, Carden Place. His successor was the the Rev. John Comper. He left St John’s to start a mission in the Gallowgate from which St Margaret’s Church evolved.

The Building

The architects were Messrs. Matthew and Mackenzie and the building in the early Decorated Style, prevalent at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The windows have geometrical tracery. When the church was consecrated only the chancel, nave and south aisle had been completed, the north aisle was added in 1898 and the tower was not completed until 1913. The walls were built of hammer-dressed Aberdeen granite but the dressings at the quoins and voids are in freestone from Burntisland. The nave roof is timber and the sedilia, piscine and altar are made from Caen stone (the present altar cover the stone altar), the fine shelly limestone from Normandy, was often used in mediaeval buildings.

Right Image: St John’s Church Aberdeen Ceiling Organ

The Font

The wonderful font is pre-reformation and came from the ruined church at Kinkell near Inverurie. Alexander Galloway was the rector of Kinkell from 1516 until his death in 1552 and he was also Rector of Kings College, Aberdeen, several times during the period. He designed and donated many works of art of the Diocese and this font is attributed to him; it bears his initials on the West panel. Other carvings are the five wounds of Christ, the crown of thorns and a rose, the symbol of the Virgin Mary.

The Reredos

This was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and was placed above the High altar in the 1930s in memory of his parents. Ninian Comper was the leading ecclesiastical architect and designer of his time and was the son of the Rev. John Comper and his wife Ellen. John Comper was the Rector of St John’s from 1861 – 1870 and was “a man…pervaded by a passionate pity for the poor”. He established a mission in the Gallowgate and persuaded the sisters of the Society of St Margaret to establish a community in Aberdeen. John Comper was one of the most advanced priests in the Anglo Catholic Revival in Scotland and in 1870 he became the Rector of the new congregation of St Margaret’s in the Gallowgate. Ninian Comper’s unusual “strawberry signature” is a tribute to his father who died suddenly in the Duthie Park while giving strawberries to poor children. The strawberry can be seen in churches around the world.

The magnificent golden reredos is a celebration of the Incarnation. The Virgin Mary is writing the Magnificat in a book held by an angel and the inscriptions say “Through whom all things are made” and “the word was made flesh”. The Christ child is holding the Ninian Comper strawberry signature.

Left Image: The Font

The Stained Glass Windows

The East Window

This magnificent window should be viewed from the bottom to the top. The lower window shows a series of scenes from the Passion of the Christ with the crucifixion in the centre. The section immediately above this shows the Risen Christ flanked by St Peter, the Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and St James the Apostle. The top section of the window shows Christ the King in glory robed in majesty of the colours of a rainbow and surrounded by four images, representing the four Gospels.

The Chancel Windows

North wall, beside the High Altar – a memorial window for a Priest of St Andrews Church in Aberdeen, who died in 1843, with images of St Peter and St Andrew.

South Wall, beside the High Altar – memorial window for Patrick Cheyne and his wife Margaret (possibly the parents of Rev. Patrick Cheyne, Rector of St John’s 1818-1858) who died in 1848 and 1838 respectively with images of St Patrick and St Margaret of Scotland.

North wall, opposite the organ – memorial window for Elizabeth, wife of Inglis Stuart who died in 1848 with images of Mary and Martha (left) and the Resurrection (right).

Right Image: The Reredos

The Nave Windows

North Wall, East end – two memorial windows:

Right: for Catherine Scott of Craibstone who died in 1855 with images from the early life of Christ.

South Wall, East end – the War Memorial Window

Memorial window for all the young men from St John’s who were killed in the Second World War with the theme of the images of the Resurrection.

West Wall, beside the main door: The Falconer Memorial Window.

Memorial window window for John Stewart Falconer, Rector of St John’s who died in 1874 after only three years in office with images of St Timothy and St Paul.

Rose Window above the Choir Vestry door: an image of St Cecilia surrounded by angles with musical instruments, an appropriate entrance to the Choir.

Left Image: The East Window

The Mural Above The Chancel Arch

This magnificent mural above the chancel arch seems to depict scenes from local industries of the time with fishing on the left and farming on the right. Above it are the Disciples of Christ on the left and the worshippers of God on the right. The glorious illumination of divine light separates the church on earth from the angels in glory above. Far above the Angels and Archangels is the Holy Trinity, worthy of our praise and worship.

Around the time of the 2004 restoration much research went into the story behind the arch mural which is one of the most prominent features of St John’s. Details were hard to find and it took a lot of effort and energy to find out the story which is written below courtesy of Mr A.C. Stuart Donald, Diocesan Archivist.

Late in 1902, the Wardens of St John’s Church recommended the Vestry to install electric light in place of gas. This received general agreement, but threw up other measures that would have to be taken, to improve the appearance of the interior.

Firstly, ugly gas pipes that had been installed over the chancel partially obscuring the great east window, would have to be removed and because the installed gas lighting has blackened the interior, the walls would need re-painting. Mr Cumine, the Vestry Secretary, laid before the meeting held on 13th November 1902, offers by Mr Whyte and Mr Catto to clean and repaint the church, there being produced along with Mr Whyte’s offer, a coloured design of decoration proposed by his firm of interior decorators. After due consideration, this offer was accepted. Not only for the fact it was the lowest tender, but the Vestry highly approved Whyte’s design of decoration.

Right Image: Catherine Scott Memorial Window Nave North Wall East End

Regrettably, Whyte’s, coloured decorations have perished in the mists of time, but it might be quite likely that he enlisted the help of his artist friend and colleague, James Hector, who by that time had a flourishing reputation for both landscape and portraiture. His varied output to 1902 amounting to 27 paintings listed by Aberdeen Art Gallery as attributable to the artist is testament to his prolificacy.

Hector worked from a studio at 26 Union Row during the first decade of the 20th century, and probably produced the mural after research into the subject and how ecclesiastical painters treated such thematic matter. The subject of the chancel arch decorative scheme is taken from the opening verses of the “Te Deum”. The design takes the form of part of what is known in ecclesiastical terms as a “glory”. The perfect “glory” is composed of seven circles of angels surrounding “The Most High”, but here an attempt to suggest vast expanse is made by showing a segment of the “glory” with part of the three outer circles. The cherubim and seraphim are distinguishable among the angels while in the space above the main arch and serving as a frame of a more severe style of decoration are depicted five of the archangels – Michael being shown with the sword, and Gabriel with the annunciation lily. Below the choir of angels with their instruments, and separated by bands of rainbow-like cloud, come the next in order, the Apostles and Prophets and Martyrs, some of the latter offering their crowns. Underneath, and treated in a more realistic manner, are types of the ordinary dwellers on earth.

The fishermen are seen drawing their nets, the shepherds tending their flocks, and the husbandman is shown with a scythe in his hand. The general decorative scheme aims rather at colour effect than either at exact form or at the purely symbolic style usually associated with such decoration. The picture is worked out in prismatic colouring, or as it is sometimes called, synthetic painting where harmony in the general affect and suggestion of the spirit of the subject are cleared rather than close adherence to the letter. At certain hours of the day, a crimson light thrown from the uppermost windows at either end of the church falls on the painted wall and greatly enhances the colour, producing an entirely accidental, undersigned effect – but a beautiful one. The painting above and around the chancel arch was completed in the mid-Summer of 1903, and was finally seen unimpeded by the scaffolding.

Left Image: Isabella Cheyne Memorial Window Nave North Wall East End

A commentator in the congregational magazine commented, “For boldness of design, wealth of detail, and devotional feeling, no less than for its admirable decorative qualities, we venture to think it will certainly bear the test of criticism as it will further enhance the reputation of the artist, Mr J. A. H. Hector.”

There is no reference to the mural in any of St John’s Minute Books, or any likewise payment for, “this work of art” and so it may be deducted that the reason why the artists name was forgotten, was that he probably gifted the work to God’s Glory, His glorious work, however, is not forgotten, and worshippers and visitors to St John’s, marvel at this artistic outpouring, possibly unique in Aberdeen. As for James Alexander Hay Hector, he continued to paint, having no less than 24 paintings exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, and even two at the Royal Academy in London. Trained at Gray’s School of Art, he rose to becoming Principal Lecturer in Art at Aberdeen Training Centre in St Andrew’s Street. He married Margaret Henderson, the family home being at 41 Salisbury Terrace in the city although the Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture states that the marriage broke down in 1932. Their daughter, Gertrude, was a celebrated jewellery designer of the era.

Right Image: The Mural Above The Chancel Arch

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