An obsession for detail
The church has no level foundations but clings to the steep hillside, perching upon the terraces and it was on this lofty facade that the Walter Campbell the architect and founder, really gave full vent to his imagination. Doubtless it was the memory of the long days so spent which inspired the inscriptions on the dial “The day dawns and the shadows flee away” (Song of Solomon iv. 6), and on the surrounding parapet, “Thy sun shall no more go down” (Is. lx. 20). So anxious was he that the sundial should be exactly as he wished, that it was erected and pulled down again no less than seven times before he was satisfied.
When visiting there are a plethora of highly impressive areas of detail to look out for:
- the larger square tower is pure Saxon, with its “longs and shorts” designs, its queer-shaped windows, and stones decorated with strange fern-like patterns.
- on the roof are three gargoyles, representing a dog chasing two hares, wonderful examples of modern leadwork by the same craftsman, William Bonnington, who executed the roofs of the Cloister Garth. His descendants still live in the village.
- the cloisters but are another example of Walter Campbell’s love of copying beautiful things for their own sake
- the most elaborately carved Norman archway which leads into the South Aisle or St. Columba’s Aisle.
- the window chapel adapted from one in Iona, part of the original stonework of which has been built into the wall on the other side of the entrance door.
- high up near the roof, a small star-shaped window which was, so it is said, designed to allow the beams of the rising sun and the evening star to strike the effigy of Walter Campbell.
- two slabs of Levantine marble in the St Bride’s Chapel
- the most beautiful wrought-iron gates bearing the initials and badges of those who lie beneath protecting both chapels.
- the McCorquodale window in the St Fillan’s aisle, consisting of three lights. The first shows the Warrior, the second, the Sword of the Spirit and the centre light depicting angels.
- the very heavy oak beams in the cloister garth were taken from two famous mid 19th Century battleships, the Caledonia and the Duke of Wellington.
- the lovely clear-glass window of the Bruce Chapel, originally the west window of St. Mary’s Church, South Leith, which was built in 1483.
- the semicircular apse and ambulatory with their solid pillars, narrow arches and clear-glass windows, perhaps the most distinctive features of St. Conan’s
- the communion table, made of solid oak, crafted locally and an array of chairs collected by Walter.
- the Founders’ Stone in front of the Communion Table, which commemorates the names of Walter and Helen Douglas Campbell, was laid by the Trustees in 1954.
- the double row of dark carved stalls in the chancel.
- the font, a beautiful model of a fishing boat and is one of those which Breton fishermen hang up in their churches as votive offerings in gratitude for escaping from storm at sea
- the large organ screen in the Nave, carved by Walter Campbell himself, including grotesque monsters, four heavenly creatures and ribbonwork symbolising Eternity.