Located down at the northern end of Broughton Street, and across from a large roundabout, is a rather unassuming building with a hidden secret. Inside this inconspicuous church is what locals call Edinburgh’s own Sistine Chapel, because the interior is decorated from floor to ceiling with paintings by Phoebe Anna Traquair, an Irish-born pioneer of the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement. She worked across a multitude of mediums from embroidery to enamels and became the first woman admitted to the Scottish Royal Academy.
Now used as a venue for private functions, the building was initially designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson as a Catholic church in 1885. Sir Anderson was an assistant to the prolific English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, and was responsible for many buildings throughout Scotland. These include McEwan Hall and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and Glasgow Central Station.
Traquair began working on the murals that cover all four walls in 1893, and didn’t finish until eight years later. The lengthiness was due in part to her only working when daylight was acceptable. The southern wall features scenes from the Old Testament and the northern wall depicts ones from the New Testament. The wall to the east contains visions of the Apocalypse and the west shows the Second Coming of Christ. Traquair was inspired by artists from Renaissance Italy. She chose to do the fine details by hand using an assortment of colors, highlighting some images in gesso.
Towards the end of the 20th century, the church ceased to function as a place of worship and was falling into disrepair. But in 1993, the Mansfield Traquair Trust organization was founded to help preserve the integrity and artistry of this incredible building. It took five years of conservation work to bring the structure and its decoration back to their former glory.
Know Before You Go
The Mansfield Traquair Centre is usually open to visitors in the afternoon on the second Sunday of the month, from September to July. It is possible to take a guided tour during this time. It also operates as a performance venue for The Fringe Festival during the month of August.