IT was by common consent Scotland’s most magnificent religious building of its day, the Charterhouse of Perth which also housed the tomb of the ill-fated King James I. Yet more than 130 years after it was founded in 1429 as a priory of the Carthusian order of monks, commissioned by James I as a showcase and future mausoleum for his Stewart dynasty, Protestant reformers tore the Charterhouse to pieces, killing one of the brothers who lived there.
Nothing of the monastery remained above ground and the tombs of King James, his wife Queen Joan and a later queen, Margaret Tudor, wife of King James IV, disappeared in the chaos of the Reformation.
Yesterday it was announced that a new project will try to locate any remains of Charterhouse and the Stewart tombs, and if they are found it would be a huge boost to Perth’s attempts to become UK City of Culture in 2021.
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The date for the launch was appropriate, for as Hamish MacPherson described in The National’s Back in the Day history column, King James was assassinated exactly 580 years ago to the day yesterday, hacked and stabbed to death at Greyfriars in Perth by nobles who feared that he would take their lands and even their lives.
Professor Richard Oram, Dean of Stirling’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and colleagues will attempt to locate the city of Perth’s Charterhouse, a monastery of Carthusian monks commissioned by James I as a showcase and future mausoleum for his dynasty.
Oram will be joined by experts in archaeology, Scottish history and 3D visualisation from the University of Stirling, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art, in a joint venture that seeks to locate the Charterhouse site – and the tombs within it – and recreate it as a virtual museum for the 21st century.
Prof Oram said: “Stirling are global leaders in the area of cultural heritage: committed to sharing our knowledge with the world, we’re proud to play a central role in this partnership.
“Perth’s Charterhouse was unique in Scotland. James built it to be the spiritual focus of his dynasty and poured huge sums of money into it to create a splendid setting for his tomb.
“Medieval descriptions speak of the magnificence of the church, but nothing of it remains above ground to be seen today – the whole monastery was plundered and demolished at the Reformation.
“Working with our archaeology colleagues and the wider community in Perth, we aim to locate the Charterhouse buildings and recover as much of their plan as possible to allow us to ‘build’ a virtual reconstruction of the complex and restore the jewel in the crown of the city’s lost medieval heritage. Unearthing this almost forgotten building will transform understanding of Perth’s place in James I’s ambitions: locating the royal tombs within the church would be the icing on the cake.”
Dr Lucy Dean, the newest member of the Centre for History team at UHI and co-investigator on the project, added: “In the early fifteenth century, Perth was at the geographical heart of the country, a few miles from the inaugural site of Scottish kings, and the setting for parliaments, exchequers, church courts, royal ceremonial, and a bustling hub for trade in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The murder of James I was a pivotal moment that saw a rapid end to Perth’s status.
“The Charterhouse Project will allow the local, national and world communities the opportunity to discover and re-discover the fascinating history of this lost capital through innovative research and delivery methods.”