The Cathedral of the Isles was founded in 1851 as the Collegiate Church of the Holy Spirit (it became a cathedral in 1876). The purpose of a collegiate church is to offer liturgical worship of a quality beyond the resources of a parish church. The founder, George Frederick Boyle, had embraced the ideals of the Oxford Movement during his student days at Christ Church, Oxford and set about creating such a collegiate foundation, traditionally made up of canons and boy singers, at Cumbrae.
The choirboys lived in the Choristers’ House, now North College, and sang at the daily offices of Mattins and Evensong. The church’s acoustic was particularly suited to plainsong which was then enjoying a revival, as was hymnology. George Cosby White, first Provost (1851-3) produced Hymns and Introits, a predecessor to the still popular Hymns Ancient and Modern.
Crisis struck in 1885 with the founder’s bankruptcy, and for five years the Cathedral was silent. College and Cathedral reopened in 1891, but on a reduced scale with a choir formed of local youngsters. An enthusiastic revival occurred during the time of Dean George Douglas (Provost, 1949-73).
Today, the Cathedral Choir, directed by Alastair Chisholm, sings at major festivals and other occasions, and musicians visit from all over Britain. The Holt organ, built originally in 1867 for St. John’s, Princes Street, Edinburgh, was installed in the Cathedral in 2004. Liturgical music remains at the core, but in addition the Cathedral is host to concerts, recitals and music breaks. The annual concert series Music for a Summer Afternoon draws audiences from far and wide.
For further information, see the booklet Music at the Cathedral of the Isles, 1851-2010, which is on sale at the College.