Priceless portrait of Mary Queen of Scots coming to Glasgow’s East End in new Catholic museum

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The painting has never been seen before in Glasgow, and has been revered by the Catholic church for over 400 years

The memorial painting of Mary Queen of Scots is set to come to Glasgow as part of the collection for a new Catholic museum, a painting of such historical worth that it rivals the likes of Christ St John of the Cross, currently hanging in Kelvingrove’s art gallery.

The new museum is set to open in the former site of St Mary’s School on Orr Street in Calton. This will see a massive cultural draw brought to the East End of Glasgow - something that the area has sorely needed. Glasgow City Council hopes the new museum will serve as a huge influence on the regeneration of the East End.

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The parish area of St Mary’s was also chosen due to the large amount of Irish Catholic immigration into the area, particularly during the nineteenth century. This is remembered in the monument near the church itself, which honours those who died in the famine of Ireland.

St Mary’s is the second oldest Catholic parish in Glasgow - opening in 1842, three years before the potato blight ravaged Ireland.

The new centre and museum is expected to be open by spring next year - it will be completely different to the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art by Glasgow Cathedral, which houses exhibits relating to all the world’s major religions.

Many of the objects in the museum have been donated by the Blairs Museum in Aberdeen, at one point the final college owned by Catholic bishops in Scotland. Included in the collections are internationally renowned paintings, church textiles, and Jacobite memorabilia, amongst other historical Catholic paraphernalia.

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The new East End museum will chart the rise, fall, and rise again of Catholicism in Scotland, illustrated by the museums expansive collection of historical items important to the Catholic church in Scotland.

Mary Queen of Scots memorial painting will be one of the biggest draws to the museum. It was painted at the beginning of the seventeeth century - making it around 430 years old.

It’s painted in the Flemish style, which is characterised by the use of oil paints, and the considered, realistic depiction of its subjects.

The Mary Queen of Scots memorial painting will be coming to Glasgow in a new Catholic museum - coming down from Blairs College in Aberdeen, which recently closed.The Mary Queen of Scots memorial painting will be coming to Glasgow in a new Catholic museum - coming down from Blairs College in Aberdeen, which recently closed.
The Mary Queen of Scots memorial painting will be coming to Glasgow in a new Catholic museum - coming down from Blairs College in Aberdeen, which recently closed. | Blairs College

The painting was commissioned by Elizabeth Curle (pictured on the right of the painting) who was lady in waiting during the last eight years of Mary’s life, who accompanied Mary to the scaffold and was the last person to embrace her. Elizabeth would be the woman who would handle the late Mary’s estate.

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Dr Alison Burke, curator at Blairs Museum, writing for History Scotland explained the history of the painting:“On her death in 1620, Elizabeth bequeathed the painting and the miniature to the Scots Collage in Douai where her nephew Hippolytus Curle S.J was a priest.

“There the painting stayed until the French Revolution forced the students and staff to flee when the building was sacked and the belongings seized. However, in such reverence was the painting held, that it was saved by John Farquharson Rector of the College.

“He took the painting to a friend who lived near to the College where it was cut from its frame and hidden up a disused chimney.”

The memorial painting of Mary Queen of Scots was given to the College at Blairs by the French Government in 1831, the only remaining college possessed by the Bishops of Scotland at that time.

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Dr Burke continued:“The Memorial painting presents Mary as a martyr. In the painting, she holds her crucifix and prayer book, her rosary is at her waist and the vignette of her execution depicts her in the red of martyrdom.

“This is not a Queen executed for treason, this is a Queen being executed for her faith and living on as a symbol of martyrdom.”

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