Art and Architecture
The nave was largely rebuilt by Sir Robert Lorimer, and lacks the clerestory windows of the choir. It has a barrel ceiling of fumed oak also by Lorimer, decorated with coloured panels depicting the life of Christ.
On the north side of the nave is the Halkerston Tower, which was the entrance to the church for the laity in the 15th century. Internally, it has a ribbed vault dating from the late 15th century, but externally it has been very much altered.
St. John’s has a unique eight sided, splay footed, broach spire, which is covered by ribbed lead sheeting, and rises from the square bell tower. The spire rises to a golden cockerel weather vane, 155 feet above the pavement. It has been a landmark over Perth for over 500 years.
The original lead sheeting was blown down in a gale in 1767, and replaced by the Town Council. The west face of the spire are inscribed the names of the Lord Provost, the Dean of Guild, four bailies, and the City Treasurer and the Convener, and also at the bottom the names of the carpenter and the plumber who carried out the work.
15th Century Candelabrum
A splendid Flemish 15th century brass candelabrum hangs in the north transept close to the Shrine. It is probably the only one of its type in Scotland and features the Virgin and Child set in sunburst at its apex. There are twelve branches, representing the 12 apostles. Originally belonging to the Skinners of Perth, it now belongs to the Perth Museum, and is on permanent loan to St. John’s Kirk.
The three manual pneumatic action organ was installed in 1926, and incorporates much of the 1873 Conacher of Huddersfield instrument which had served the East Kirk in the building prior to the Lorimer restoration. It was refurbished most recently in 2003, and the action, now electro-magnetic, is controlled from a detached oak console which can be moved and played in almost any part of the building. There are 2,616 pipes, housed in two beautiful oak cases designed by Sir Robert Lorimer.
There are regular recitals by the Director of Music at St. John’s and visiting organists.
The square central tower, is supported by four massive pillars at the corners of the crossing. The ceiling of the crossing is vaulted, with a large space in the centre to permit the hoisting of bells into the tower. This is filled by a carved wooden boss depicting Perth’s symbol – the Lamb of God with the staff and banner. However, the banner carried by the Lamb features the Cross of St. George, rather than the Saltire! Beneath the centre of the crossing, is the Communion Table, and within the first arch of the nave a large wooden cross hangs from 15th century iron hooks in the roof.
The choir is the most original (i.e. 15th century) part of the church. The arches separating the choir from the side aisles rise to about two thirds of the height to the roof, above which are the clerestory windows which allow light to flood in. The roof of the choir, which is one of Scotland’s few surviving major mediaeval oak tie-beam roofs, was exposed and restored by Lorimer during the restoration in the 1920s. In 1970 the choir was divided by a glass partition, and the eastern section, which in mediaeval times contained the High Altar, was converted into a separate chapel.
The wrought iron votive strand in the north transept was commissioned by the previous Friends of St. John’s Kirk. It was made by Ratho Byres Forge, and consists of a metal stand with one large candle which symbolises Christ as the Light of the World. this one is kept lit when the church is open. There are spaces for other smaller candles which can be lit from that flame. A modern votive stand like this is unusual in a Presbyterian church, but it is widely used by visitors and members of the congregation.
Black Watch Window
The Black Watch window in the north aisle celebrates the connection between this famous regiment, the City of Perth, and High Kirk of St. John the Baptist. It is dedicated to the Sixth Battalion of the Black Watch, It is a two light window with two Black Watch soldiers, one in ceremonial uniform, holding the Queen’s Colour, and the other in battle dress, bearing the Regimental colour. Behind the first is the archangel St. Michael with a spear slaying the dragon of evil, while behind the other is St. Andrew the patron saint of Scotland, standing in front of his cross. The Black Watch served with such distinction in France in the First World War that the French President awarded the Sixth Battalion the Croix de Guerre. This is shown in the bottom right hand section of the window, with the Regimental badge opposite