Lerwick - Bressay Parish Church   Lerwick - Bressay Parish Church
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St. Columba's Church, Lerwick : Historical Notes

The building which is presently in use is the third building to have served as the Parish Church in Lerwick.   Both of the earlier buildings stood on a site about 60 metres north of the present church which is today occupied by the Masonic Hall.   The original church was built by the people of Lerwick sometime between 1660 and 1685, but the Parish of Lerwick was not created until 1701 when it was disjoined from the Parish of Tingwall.   The original church building was replaced by a larger one in 1782-3.   This was built around the first church while it remained in use.   The walls of this second building remain today as part of the Masonic Hall.

The present church was built between 1825 and 1829 at a cost of £2881 - a large sum of money at that time . It is a listed building and is the largest church in Shetland. It is affectionately known as "the Big Kirk". The church organ, which was originally installed in 1871, was said to be the second organ in the whole of the Church of Scotland. It was only in 1866 that the General Assembly agreed to allow the use of instrumental music in churches.

Inside St Columbas

During the summer of 1895 the building was extended with the addition of the apse at the south end, flanked by two rooms - a vestry on the west side and a session room (now used as a choir room) on the east side of the apse. On completion of this extension, a new pulpit was built, the organ was moved to its present position in the apse and a second manual added to it. A heating system was installed, improved seating was provided and the church redecorated - all for the cost of £2080. Most of this was raised by holding bazaars in Lerwick and Glasgow. At this same time several people generously donated individual items to the church. These include the baptismal font, the communion table and chairs and the two stained glass windows. The font is carved from white limestone from Caen in northern France which is used in many English churches including Henry VIII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. Around the sides are four red marble pillars.

The communion table was gifted by Robert P. Gilbertson, a native of Lerwick, who left home at nineteen to  become a merchant in Africa.   He also gave the Gilbertson Park to the people of Lerwick as a sports ground.   The chairs which stand behind the communion table were gifted by Captain George Allison, an elder of the church and Lerwick's first harbourmaster.
The two stained glass windows were also donated at this time.   The one on the left was the gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Spence of Lerwick and illustrates the text " Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" [Matthew Chapt. 11, verse 28].   The figure depicted in the window was based on a statue by the Danish sculptor, Thorvaldsen.   The right-hand window was paid for by various members of the congregation of the time and is a reproduction of Holman Hunt's famous painting, "The Light of the World".   It illustrates the text "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" [Revelations Chapt. 3, verse 20]..

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