Restoration Work Underway: The College of Theseus and St Andrew?
For centuries, the ancient Athenian Government maintained an even older ship in their famous harbour: the galley of the mythological hero, Theseus. Every year when a board rotted away or some piece of tackle wore out, the master shipwrights replaced it until some began to wonder if any part of the old ship remained; if it was still the ship of Theseus?
Each year, the College conducts massive restoration works on our ‘cyclopean’ sandstone walls. As the weather-assailed stone erodes, master masons replace whole blocks at a time, carving new gothic elements to succeed those that have worn away. In other years, whole chimneys and buttresses have been replaced. Unlike the Athenians, however, St Andrew’s has no such concern since we know the College fills the walls but is not defined by them.
This year, however, work is underway on the oldest corner of our oldest building. Stonemasons from the Traditional Stonemasonry Company have erected precariously tall scaffolding around the north-eastern corner of Main Building. They will be repointing aging mortar, replacing distressed stone and resealing the slate roof of the Old Library.
This work is in the vicinity of the Foundation Stone which was laid in 1874 by future Principal, the Revd. John Kinross, though its exact location is now forgotten. As he tapped that lump of masonry into place, Kinross told the crowd the purpose of the College was ‘to awaken in the mind of the student a strong love of truth, a detestation of all that is low, debasing, and vicious, and an appreciation and practice of all that is noble in feeling and action.’ This philosophy is the true keystone of the College.
The northeast corner also housed the two most important rooms of the old College: the Munro Dining Hall (now Reading Room) and the Old Library. They embodied an architectural message about the purpose of a university college: common talk over a common meal with books to slake students’ less material cravings.
As the expert stonemasons replace like with like, we are reassured in the confidence that the baronial turrets and massive walls of the College will house many more generations of students.
- A.C Wright, Dean of Studies and Archivist