I love these antique photos, especially when they show us parts of the world that don’t exist anymore. This is Trinity College Kirk, a church associated with Trinity College in Edinburgh, Scotland, photographed in 1848. In addition to its late medieval architecture, note the beautiful circular stained-glass window. I think those are headstones of old graves at the bottom, and the turrets, towers and walls remind the viewer strongly of Scotland’s medieval past. The hill in the background is Calton Hill, which has traditionally been the seat of Scotland’s government, thus making this site associated with kings and power going back many centuries. Yet there’s a sleepy, almost derelict quality about this old church, which in fact was near the end of its existence as this photo was taken.
Trinity College Kirk had a long history. A church was established here in the 1460s, established by Mary of Guelders, the wife and queen consort of King James II of Scotland, whom she had married in 1449. The church was not completed, apparently, until the mid-16th century, the time of Henry VIII. By then Mary was long dead and in fact she was buried in Trinity College Kirk.
The church was a victim of the advancing modern world. In the 1840s, the technology of the railroad had begun to unite Britain and Scotland in a way that many wars, kings, battles and political proclamations could never quite do. Urban planners made a decision that this site should be the central railway station for Edinburgh. Trinity College Kirk was torn down, and this photo was taken to memorialize it before the wreckers began their work. Queen Mary was moved to another location, and Waverly Station now stands on this spot, as it has in one form or another since 1848. Pieces of the old church were reconstructed on another site, but the Kirk as it was known then was gone.
These ancient photos are so fascinating because they can show us what the world looked like in its last moments before modernity changed it forever–photography being one of many hallmarks of that modernity. This hillside probably looked much like this, and much the same, for 300 years. Now it’s a tangle of train tracks and terminals. The world marches on, but once in a while we should sit back and take stock of what we’ve lost.