A major project to restore the historic stained glass windows at St Columba’s Church in Stornoway is underway following years of fundraising by the congregation.
The work is to be done in phases and stained glass artisans have arrived on the island to remove the first lot of windows.
The windows will be transported to Prestwick to the Rainbow Glass Studios, where they will be restored to their former glory.
The project is estimated to cost about £150,000 and has been made possible by the generosity of the St Columba’s congregation, who have been collecting for the windows for six years, and by a £50,000 grant from community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust.
The congregation have been holding “days of giving” twice a year, which have consistently raised nearly £20,000 every year.
They have also been awarded a £30,000 grant and £90,000 loan from The Church of Scotland General Trustees and £10,000 from Third Sector Hebrides towards the work.
Point and Sandwick Trust will be giving the church £50,000 over five years, to help with their repayments.
The condition of the windows has been assessed as “poor” to “critical” and Point and Sandwick agreed to support the restoration project because of the unique position St Columba’s occupies in the community as the Parish Church.
Graham Morrison, St Columba’s Session Clerk, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust agreed to assist us because, as the Parish Church, we provide a service to all who need it, whether they have a church connection or not.”
St Columba’s Church – a commission for Francis Humberson Mackenzie of Seaforth – was finished around 1794, with the stained glass windows installed during refurbishment in 1885, which also included the addition of the transept.
All the windows, with the exception of the big west window which was severely damaged during in a storm in 1946, have stood the test of time.
The west window damage was repaired with materials available at the time, and so it is not in keeping with the rest of the windows.
He said: “Leaded windows, like all other structures have a finite lifetime, and these have served well, but are now in sore need of refurbishment.”
The west window, located upstairs at the back of the church, is in the poorest state and will be restored in the first phase of work, as will the south-facing windows.
The west window – which gets most of the sunlight – will be restored in keeping with the designs of the other windows, which are decorated by two ecclesiastical roundels that are repeated.
Restoration – including disassembly, replacement of lead work and all cracked glass – will take around two months and once these windows are brought back, the remainder of the windows will be removed and restored.
A stone mason from Aberdeen will repair broken sections of sandstone around the windows. The work should be completed around the end of September.
The Clerk said: “I am sure the congregation will be delighted, having waited long for it.
“The congregation have been saving hard and they are making a big commitment into the future to repay the loan. The Point and Sandwick grant will be a big help to us.”
The windows will be restored to their 1885 condition.
Duncan Mackay, vice chair of Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “The church is an iconic building, probably the oldest in Stornoway, and being the Parish Church we at Point and Sandwick are pleased to help the fund for window repairs.
“The congregation have been fundraising now for a number of years and the £50,000 grant from the community wind farm will help the project for the window repairs to begin this month.”
St Columba’s have received a number of other significant donations towards the project, namely £10,000 from Third Sector Hebrides and £3,000 from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s development fund in addition to the grant and loan from the General Trustees.
The congregation will be repaying the loan and Point and Sandwick Trust will give £10,000 a year to help with the repayments.
“That will meet just under half of our repayments,” said Graham. “This grant from Point and Sandwick will be a significant help to the congregation.”
He said the congregation had taken on the loan “in faith”. The building has been, in effect, bequeathed to us by those who have gone before, who made sacrifices in their day.
“It is our present responsibility to conserve the building so that it may be passed on to those who will, in God’s will, follow us.
The church was originally built to replace St Columba’s Ui Church at Aignish and St Lennan’s in the old centre of Stornoway.
St Lennan’s once stood on a site between Point Street and North Beach Street, extending from where the Crown Hotel now stands towards Bank Street.
At the time St Columba’s was built, there were no streets around it and the church stood alone on the hill outside the village of Stornoway.