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Virtual tour

The Shrine

The high arch that leads into the Shrine is adorned with the arms of the Cities of Scotland held by angels, their tall wings following the line of the architecture. On the inside of this arch the arms of what were then the British Dominions are similarly displayed. The gates to the Shrine are wrought iron, forged by Thomas Hadden. In contrast to the classical forms of the Hall of Honour, the architecture of the Shrine is Gothic, tall and narrow and lit by windows high above us.

In front of us as we enter stands the Casket. It holds the Rolls of Honour inscribed with the names of the dead, returning once again to the individuals, the men and women commemorated here.
Designed by Alice Meredeth Williams, the Casket is decorated with angels and the figures of St Andrew and St Margaret of Scotland. It is made of steel, a difficult metal to work in this way, but as it is the metal of war, its use here is deliberately symbolic, to suggest the ancient biblical image of swords beaten into ploughshares.

The Casket is flanked by four small bronze kneeling angels also by Alice Meredith Williams, figures of exquisite delicacy.
This whole composition of Casket and angels stands on a pillar of dark green Italian marble which stands in turn on the living rock of the Castle itself, at this its highest point.

The theme of the separate contributions to the war and the individual sacrifices it entailed is repeated in the remarkable frieze, which continues on all five walls of the Shrine. The frieze is the most complex sculpture in the whole Memorial.
In five parts, modelled in low relief and cast in bronze, the two sections on either side form processions of figures that converge on the fifth and smallest panel.

 

 

Set in the wall directly behind the Casket, the fifth panel represents the Sword of Honour with two wreaths, a wreath of bay for victory and, borrowed from Christian symbolism, a wreath of thorn for sacrifice.

It is however the four panels on either side that are remarkable here.

 

 

Based on the drawings of Morris Meredith Williams, who had served in the war, and modelled by Alice, these processions reputedly include at least one representative of every rank and unit serving in the First World War and of every weapon and piece of equipment employed.
   
It is an extraordinary catalogue, but it is equally remarkable in design and execution, for in spite of all the detail which ranges from uniforms and personal equipment to a tank, an aeroplane, a dog and a mule, the frieze works brilliantly as just that, a unified sculptural composition completely at one with the architecture.

   
This procession of seemingly innumerable figures almost two thirds life-size placed here in the Shrine at the climax of the whole Memorial movingly evokes the central idea of individual sacrifice and individual grief.

Hanging above us in the Shrine is the huge figure of St Michael. Above St Michael too, carved in the stonework of the roof and setting him in the Heavens are symbolic representations of the Planets, designed like the windows beneath them, by Douglas Strachan.
St Michael, carved in Scottish oak by the Clow brothers from a design by Alice Meredith Williams, is the only monumental freestanding sculpture in the Memorial. As leader of the Heavenly Host in the overthrow of the Rebel Angels when Satan was cast out of Heaven, the Archangel Michael personifies the soldier fighting in a just cause, but here he stands, not for temporal victory - there is no triumphalism of that kind anywhere in the Memorial - but for mankind's triumph over the evil of war, the theme of the seven great windows that surround the figure of Michael and which illuminate the Shrine.

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