Plans to restore the historic Martyrs’ Monument are at last getting underway. The striking nineteenth-century obelisk on the Scores is badly weather beaten and there are concerns that loose masonry may pose a health and safety risk.
In 2010 a campaign was launched to preserve this distinctive landmark for future generations. During the past two years more than £130,000 has been raised to finance the re-facing of the sandstone obelisk. This week the process of tendering for contractors to work on the monument ended. It is hoped that restoration work will take place during the summer.
The Martyrs’ Monument was constructed during the 1840s. Over ten metres tall, it conspicuously commemorates the lives of four Protestants burnt at the stake in St Andrews in the mid sixteenth-century. Patrick Hamilton, Henry Forest, George Wishart and Walter Myln were killed after defying the authority of the Catholic Church. Their agonising deaths helped to encourage support for the Reformation both in St Andrews and across Scotland, and gruesome descriptions of their sufferings were included in John Foxe’s famous Book of Martyrs.
Even today some members of the St Andrews community regard the stories of these men with emotion. Councillor Bill Sangster says that the monument “shows the feeling people had for all the martyrs. It is a part of our history. Something we feel in the blood.”
Councillor Sangster, who represents St Andrews and Strathkinness on Fife Council, was a key figure in mobilising support for the restoration. The project has involved a large number of different bodies: the St Andrews Partnership, the St Andrews Preservation Trust, the Community Council, Fife Council and Historic Scotland have all played a part.
Many St Andrews residents have also made donations and given their backing to the scheme. Izzy Corbin, the Deputy Convenor of the St Andrews Community Council, says that the restoration of the monument is “something close to a lot of people’s hearts”.
There has even been support from overseas. The Martyrs’ Monument is known around the world because of its prominent position near the Old Course and the Royal and Ancient Club House. Messages of encouragement for the restoration project have been received from well-wishers as far afield as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and America.
A few people, though, have expressed their ambivalence at commemorating only one side of St Andrews’ religious history. Beth Tapscott, a Ph.D. student in Scottish History, believes that there is “so much confessional stuff tied up with a thing like that” and she feels that “the use of the term martyr might be controversial.”