Symbols of piety and wealth

Did you know the word spire comes from ‘spir’, an old English word for “shoot or stalk of grass”?

This is similar to the old Norse word ‘spira’ meaning a “a stalk or slender tree,” but now more commonly meaning “tapering top of a tower or steeple” first recorded in the 1590s.

Symbolically, spires have two functions.

The first is to proclaim a martial power.

A spire, with its reminiscence of the spear point, gives the impression of strength.

The second is to reach up toward the skies.

The celestial and hopeful gesture of the spire is one reason for its association with religious buildings.

A spire on a church is not just a symbol of piety, but is often seen as a symbol of the wealth and prestige of the order, or more likely the patron, who commissioned the building.

That is certainly the case in Kirrie as the spire was gifted to the townsfolk by Sir Charles Lyell in 1790.

At Kirriemuir Parish Kirk rising above the west gable is a two-stage tower and stone spire.

The tower is in two stages, with a simple cornice present at the top of the first stage.

The smaller second stage has a large clock face on each of its four sides, above which rises the narrow sandstone spire, topped by a metal weather vane.

As an architectural ornament, spires are most consistently found on Christian churches.

Although any denomination may choose to use a spire, the lack of a cross on the structure is more common in Roman Catholic and other pre-Reformation churches.

A wyvern, sometimes spelled wivern, is a legendary winged creature with a dragon’s head (which may be said to breathe fire) and wings; a reptilian body; two legs; and a barbed tail.

The wyvern in its various forms is important to heraldry, frequently appears as a mascot of schools and athletic teams, and occasionally appears in medieval and modern European and British literature as well as a multitude of video games.

No-one is quite sure why the weathervane on the steeple is in the form of a wyvern.

Wyverns are used in heraldry and the coat of arms of the City of Dundee is supported by a wyvern on each side.

Wyverns are loosely based on the shape of a dragon and although dragons are seen as evil entities, the heraldic symbolism of dragons and wyverns is that of nobility and courage.

It is thought that dragons had very good eyesight and that may have been considered as a characteristic of wyverns and perhaps that is why they are placed on top of steeples.

Kirrie’s wyvern certainly stands out as a bright gold in the winter sunlight.

Forfar too has a wyvern (pictured), which was repaired last year as it fell off its mount in a high wind, which gave us a chance to see that it had originally been painted with colourful feathers, but is now just a plain copper like Kirrie’s.

There is also a sea-dwelling variant, dubbed the sea-wyvern, which has a fish tail in place of a barbed dragon’s tail.

Speaking of dragons, the dragon is also a fairly popular commercial logo or mascot, such as Brechin Castle Centre. The dragon logo is an iconic symbol, synonymous with the Angus area, dating back to a legend from Pictish history. The dragon is seen on many historic buildings across Angus and was chosen by Lord Dalhousie for his business logo at Brechin Castle to represent a local story that has endured through time.

Other modern dragons are still around and you can find the Happy Dragon at 86 Montrose Street, Brechin and the Golden Dragon at 111-115 Castle Street, Forfar.

Yours ate,